It looked like a spontaneous amendment to an obscure piece of legislation.
But when Labor quietly amended a government bill on funding for the NBN company’s regional expansion in May 2020, the opposition was actually laying the groundwork for a policy that it hoped would drive key city voters to the federal election. could win, which was two years away then.
Now, a week before voting day, a Labor source has revealed the party’s length of time to develop its national broadband network policy for the first time.
When it comes to NBN, data is always important.
Labor wanted to know what improvements could be made once the network rollout is completed in 2020. Specifically, the opposition was keen to upgrade as many homes from fiber-to-the-node (FttN) to fiber-to-the-home (FttH) as affordable as possible.
However, the biggest obstacle was the lack of data. Other than the NBN company website – where you can plug in an address and look up technology type – Australia had no data on what technology was being used, house-to-house and suburb by suburb.
A third party NBN managed to manually scrape the data from the company’s website, but it was not 100% accurate.
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This takes us back to May 2020, when the government was racing to pass legislation to tax fixed line networks to help pay for NBN regional networks.
Labor was willing to support the law – but with some minor amendments.
One of the amendments added to the Senate is to require an NBN company to provide mapping data about each NBN-serving area module within 150 days. The data will show the major technology type used and the date people can order a connection in that area.
Labor sources say the coalition did not raise any objections. The opposition was not sure whether the government understood the real intention at that time to move the amendment to the bill.
But, six months later, the data was uploaded to the government’s national map website. Now anyone can overlay a map of what type of technology was used in each part of Australia.
Screenshot of NBN technology available in Melbourne. Photograph: National Map
The data allowed Labor to conduct a spatial density analysis of homes within fiber-to-the-node areas and determine where it was most cost-effective to upgrade the connection.
NBN Co then began announcing which 2m homes it would offer fiber upgrades to – but Labor was already ahead of the game.
The coalition had promised to add 2m premises at a cost of $2.9bn. But Labor was able to determine that an additional 1.5m homes could be upgraded for a further $2.4bn.
Oppo pledged to move a total of 5.3m campus from FttN to fiber-to-the-home at a cost of $3.5bn. Beyond that 3.5 m figure, spatial density fell quickly and it was more expensive to upgrade, data obtained through Labor’s legislative amendment showed.
The data means Labor can, during the campaign, provide its candidates with accurate local upgrade numbers at the polls.
The shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, posted on her Facebook page that 106,000 homes in western Sydney will be upgraded to full fiber under the plan, for example, her electorate of Greenway includes 15,000.
Labor deliberately announced its NBN policy in November 2021, ahead of the election, to give Communications Minister Paul Fletcher enough time to look for any holes in it. (He will not be able to ask the NBN company to reduce any numbers once the campaign starts and the government is in caretaker mode.)
Fletcher made some vague claims about the upgrades and extravagance of Labor targeting marginal voters. But he did not highlight any important issue with the opposition’s policy.
Guardian Australia contacted Fletcher’s office for comments and was directed to the NBN company. As a government-owned business, it said it was unable to comment while the government was in caretaker mode.
The suburbs earmarked for the most benefits under labor policy are not the most marginal. The plan would double fiber-to-the-home in the secure Liberal-held seat of Flinders and the Labor-held seat of Newcastle, according to modeling seen by the Guardian.
Under Coalition’s policy, the Labor-held seat of Perth and the Liberal-held seat of Leichhardt would receive the greatest number of upgrades.
South Australia and Tasmania are the two states set to benefit the most from Labour’s upgrades. Under the announced coalition plan, to date, about 29% of FttN campuses are set to be upgraded in those two states, compared to more than 50% in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and WA.