Labor pledges to give 1.5 million extra homes access to NBN fibre-to-the-home in $2.4 billion plan

An extra 1.5 million households and small businesses will be given access to the National Broadband Network’s fibre-to-the-home internet in a new $2.4 billion election promise by the federal opposition aimed at portraying the government as a laggard on technology.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who will announce the policy on Wednesday, says the plan will ensure 10 million premises across Australia – 90 per cent of the NBN fixed-line footprint – have access to gigabit speeds by 2025.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has pledged to give a further 1.5 million households and small businesses access to fibre-to-the-premises in a major NBN election policy.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

The election pledge also includes a commitment by Labor to keep the NBN in public hands for the foreseeable future but does not rule out eventual privatisation.

“Our plan will run fibre into the street and give Australians who rely on copper wire
connections the choice of having fibre connected into their home, if they want faster speeds than their NBN copper can deliver,” Mr Albanese and communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said in a statement ahead of the official policy launch.

“For nearly a decade, the Liberal and Nationals’ oversight of the NBN has been a masterclass in technological incompetence and mismanagement causing Australia to trail behind other developed countries, slipping to 59th in the world on average broadband speeds.”

Labor says the plan will benefit 660,000 premises in the regions and 840,000 in the suburbs, and will create 12,000 engineering and construction jobs. It says the commitment will be funded through a combination of Commonwealth loans, free cash flows and equity, with the ultimate mix to be determined if they win government.

The policy is aimed at outstripping the federal government’s pledge in October 2020 to spend $3.5 billion upgrading the network by giving two million Australian households fibre-to-the-home internet by 2023. Labor’s policy would add an additional 1.5 million premises to this ambition, taking the total expansion to 3.5 million premises.

The opposition has repeatedly attacked the federal government’s embracement of fibre-to-the-home as an expensive backflip, while Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has argued it is not a drastic change but the “logical next step in the evolution of the network”.

The NBN is the nation’s biggest infrastructure project, with the major parties’ opposing approaches to its rollout one of the defining policy debates of the past decade.

Fibre-to-the-home for every Australian household was a central feature of Labor’s NBN plan, but was axed by the Coalition after the 2013 election in favour of a mixed technology approach to allow a faster rollout.

Then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull said in 2013 that continuing with Labor’s full fibre approach would mean “wasting well over $50 billion”. But documents from a 2013 strategic review into the NBN have since cast doubt over this claim, with since-unredacted figures suggesting the cost of rolling out a full fibre network to homes and businesses could have been more than $10 billion cheaper than previously claimed by the Coalition.

The federal government has not put a timeline on the sale of the NBN, but in December Mr Fletcher executed the legal first step towards privatisation by formally declaring the NBN as “built and fully operational.”

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