Turnbull is right – we need to have a Press Club debate about the NBN

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ELECTION 2013: I can’t believe I’m writing this, but alas there is a first time for everything. I believe Malcolm Turnbull is right, communications minister Anthony Albanese should appear in a debate about the NBN at the National Press Club.

Why? Despite my personal feeling that the Coalition’s proposal is technologically inferior, it would be nice to have all the facts and figures from both proposals out there in the public forum and a discussion about the future of broadband in Australia.

It would also be nice to question Albanese and Turnbull about their plans. For instance, I’ve got many questions for Turnbull about his implementation like how much do you anticipate the cost of replacing the copper to achieve fast broadband (since it is a Fibre-to-the-Node policy). Likewise to Albanese, but in relation to the construction and implementation – what are you going to do to ensure that NBN Co meets deadlines and targets for a 2021 completion date?

The National Press Club is the best place to hold this debate because of the journalists that will be able to question them – including those who agree or disagree with them – and the time. Albanese has said that he wants a debate, but instead wants it on the Today Show. Yes, that gives them an audience; but only gives them minutes to discuss their talking points. The Press Club debate, while it will only be broadcast on Sky News and the ABC, gives them time to discuss detail.

And that’s what we need in this debate about the NBN – details.

It has been poisoned by political rhetoric by both sides. Labor is labelling Turnbull’s alternative as “fauxband” – Turnbull’s plan is a reasonable alternative (especially after their 2010 election proposal), though it is not one I’d like to see in Australia – and suggested that Rupert Murdoch is backing Abbott because of NBN’s threat of Foxtel. On the other side, the Liberals have used the trust issue – you cannot trust Labor to roll this out on time and on budget – and have cited a $90 billion figure that cannot be independently verified.

There has been little debate about the advantages and disadvantages about both the plans. Yes, the Coalition’s plan may be faster and cheaper to build, but is it entirely future-proof? In the foreseeable future, Labor’s NBN is far better since there is nothing that can beat the transmission speeds that fibre has to offer. But it does come at a cost – fibre is expensive compared to copper to roll out.

Fast broadband brings a lot of opportunities for Australia – Labor’s NBN does allow for IPTV, for instance. However, their conjecture that it will break the Foxtel monopoly is simply not true. Foxtel has a stranglehold on the Pay-TV market and has the content that people want. That said, it doesn’t mean that it won’t get competitive. In the UK, telco BT has become a threat to Sky after it managed to score some rights to the Premier League, and locked up with the BBC the FA Cup broadcast rights.

It also means that people can start doing work from home – TechGeek, for instance, already does this. For us, fast broadband mean that we can cut uploading video from hours to possibly minutes or even seconds. Plus, hopefully, the video doesn’t look crap if we ever go back doing live podcast recordings on Google+ Hangouts. For others, like those in the construction industry, they can upload and download blueprints and 3D models without waiting for hours.

I highly suggest you read (though Malcolm Turnbull won’t) ABC Tech’s Nick Ross’ piece about the differences between both plans – it is a long article, but is very detailed.

The taxpayer in the end will ultimately pay for either the Liberal’s proposal or Labour’s one. As such, Australians deserve to know what each party’s plans for a National Broadband Network, not just endlessly hearing some hashtag or pamphlet. We need to be properly informed about both plans, because the NBN is a massive infrastructure project that we desperately need.

Because without the facts, how can we be sure if one plan is the right one for Australia?