interview with abc great southern about labor's nbn plan

TIM BRUNERO: We've just heard the Coalition plan and you've heard it too - using a mix of technologies to get a satisfactory result in a timeframe that they say is accelerated from Labor's plan. What is Labor's plan?

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STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS: Labor's plan was to have 97 per cent of Australian premises connected by fibre optic cable, the rest covered by a mixture of either satellite or wireless towers. Why was that the plan? Why is that the best mix? Because it future-proofs it. It means that you are going through and rolling out the cable once. You are doing it properly and you know that there are no yet-known capacity constraints when it comes to fibre optic cable. Whereas with satellite we know that we are already data-rationing on the satellite service, people can't get access to the services that they want and the speed and the bandwidth that they want. We know that there are also constraints with wireless services as well. Look, I'm not saying that they aren't important and that they aren't a part of the overall roll-out mix. But the default position has got to be getting Fibre-To-The-Premises, which is best.

BRUNERO: In a month or so you could be the minister for regional communications, are you saying that you will roll out the plan that you previously wanted to in government? That is, full NBN Fibre-To-The-Home. Is that your policy? To go back to your old policy?

JONES: Tim, we will be making an announcement in the next few weeks about how we will achieve our plans. Obviously if there are contracts that are currently in place and they have been signed in good faith than we won't be breaching those contracts. So it's not going to be easy for us to undo Malcolm Turnbull's mess, let me make that quite clear. We are going to have to turn our minds to how we deal with those premises or those areas which have been done with Fibre-To-The-Node. These incidentally are the areas where we are getting the most complaints through the TIO [Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman] at the moment because the services are just not up to scratch. It is going to take a while to undo this mess, but we are adamant that we will do it. The NBN was Labor's plan, the NBN was our vision for how we ensure we have the technology in place to take this country forward well into this century. So we are committed to doing it.

BRUNERO: Look, you said if we had stayed in government 97 per cent of the country would have Fibre-To-Their-House, to their computer virtually -

JONES: That's right, to the premises. So whether that is a unit which brings it to the basement, a house or a business yes.

BRUNERO: Okay, what percentage under the Liberal's plan will have that sort of Rolls Royce service?

JONES: Look, a minority. The only ones that are going to have it are those that are contracted under Labor. So those contracts that were made under Labor and rolled out whether under us or under the Coalition Government or in new Greenfield's developments. I know that in my own electorate - I also have a regional electorate over here - we've got some bizarre things where you have new estates and they are rolling in copper wire in new estates. It just doesn't make sense.

BRUNERO: You're Wollongong, aren't you?

JONES: Yes, southern Illawarra and southern Highlands. Actually just the next seat up from where Angus’ [Taylor] seat is. It's semi-rural and semi-regional.

BRUNERO: What I was getting to was - if 97 per cent is what you were going to do in the last iteration of an ALP federal Government, what are you going to do this time? What will you be aiming for?

JONES: Tim, I can't announce today on your program - as attractive as it would be - the details of our policy. But I can say that we will honour contracts and I can say that you will get a better service under Labor because we are committed to the original plan which is getting as much Fibre-To-The-Premises as possible.

BRUNERO: Feel free to announce it here though! We could use it you know -

JONES: [laughing] Look I've already got one diminutive in front of my name; I don't want to have two. I want to get rid of the "shadow" but I don't want to be the "ex-shadow".

BRUNERO: Okay, got it. Look just to another matter and this is my last question. Another element of regional communications is of course mobile phone signal. The Coalition just announced a further $60 million for mobile black spot funding, bringing their investment in this term of government to $220 million. The Government says that Labor has no track record at all in mobile black spot funding spending. Not one dollar in your last term of government, have you got a plan to take to voters this election when it comes to mobile black spots?

JONES: Yes, look we'll support the Government's proposed rounds one, two and three for mobile black spots. We will be making some announcements in the very near future on that. Can I just make this point - we were focused when we were in government between 2007 and 2013 on the NBN. Now mobile technology has changed a lot over those periods, we will endorse and support a mobile fund black spot programme. Because we can see that the technology has changed and there is a demand for - and in fact a need for - these services right through rural Australia where we have market failure. So we know that we have got to do something and we will be ensuring that it is at least no worse.

BRUNERO: Okay, $220 million has already been committed by the Coalition Government. You will be spending also?

JONES: We will match that; at the very least we will match that.

BRUNERO: Will you look at what they are doing - which is innovative, very interesting - a public/private model where they form a partnership, this co-funding thing, where they go around and see if they can find some cash to match public rate payer dollars with local stakeholders, farmers and such. Will you be doing that?

JONES: Yes, and let's not let the telecommunications providers off the hook here either. Because at the end of the day they are the ones that get the business advantage out of having these mobile towers built. So we don't want to have a situation where because of government action they withdraw from the field and stop building the towers they otherwise would. So we've got to have negotiations with the local instrumentalities as well as the mobile phone providers to make sure that they are in there as well.

BRUNERO: But you are the party of public funding, aren't you?

JONES: We see that there is a role for government in this. Absolutely we see there is a role for government in this. By definition, a black spot is an area where there is market failure or particular engineering difficulties in getting a tower in there. Our policy will give primacy to those issues around natural disasters and public safety and we'll be looking very closely and consulting with emergency services to see where some of those towers should be prioritised.

BRUNERO: Well, that's exactly right. Because when they turn off this copper network, as they have been talking about, that means if you've got a medical alert connected to that or don't connect up you could be left with nothing. So the black spot issue, having a mobile phone, becomes even more important. Stephen Jones, thank you.

JONES: Thank you.

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