In the wake of the announcement by NBN Co that it has now connected 4,000 homes and businesses to the in-deployment National Broadband Network (NBN), the Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott has criticised the AUD36 billion (USD36.7 billion) government project. NBN Co, the public-private company overseeing the construction and management of the fibre-optic high speed infrastructure, has revealed that of the 4,000 premises connected to the NBN, just over half (2,315) are connected via fibre, while the remainder are, in fact, rural and remote connections receiving broadband via the interim satellite service.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Abbott, arguing that the project had proved a waste of money, said of the announced connection figures: ‘The billion dollars that they [the government] have spent so far on the rollout works out at AUD250,000 per connection … So by any means this is a monumental rip-off.’ However, while the number of accesses was indeed down on NBN Co’s own projections – it had expected 35,000 connections by end-2011 – the operator has said it remains pleased with uptake. Further, NBN Co has said that it expects the number of connections to grow more significantly in 2012 as more retail service providers launch broadband plans for the NBN.
Meanwhile, having announced in October 2011 plans to extend the fibre to an area covering half a million premises in every state and territory, NBN Co has now said it expects to outline plans to extend the high speed infrastructure to a further three million homes over the next three years, while it has also revealed it aims to switch on the first rural communities to be served with a fixed-wireless connection by mid-2012. Despite such proclamations, Mr Abbot has questioned the ability of NBN Co to even achieve the initial coverage expansion target, claiming that ‘the rollout is massively behind schedule.’ Indeed, the opposition leader has suggested that by the federal election due in 2013 the NBN may yet still be ‘embryonic’ and, as such, should his party win the project could still be scrapped. ‘What we won’t do is throw good money after bad when it comes to the NBN,’ the politician is quoted as saying.