NBN debate moves to SBS

Last night the debate over the National Broadband Network (NBN) continued, this time on SBS program Insight, where guests included Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy and Opposition Spokesman for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull.

While Mr Conroy sighted access-pricing, speed and wide coverage to argue for the NBN, Mr Turnbull maintained that failing to produce a full cost-benefit analysis for the $43 billion project would be irresponsible.

Insight host Jennie Brockie struggled to obtain a definitive answer from Mr Turnbull on if the cost-benefit analysis were to show the NBN is the best way to provide broadband for Australians, then the Coalition would lend support for the project.

“I think if the Productivity Commission gave us a very big tick, it would be incredibly persuasive and I think most people would expect everybody to support it then - that would be incredibly persuasive...” Mr Turnbull said.

While Independent Tony Window has usually been a big supporter of the NBN, he began to show doubt in terms of the future benefits of super fast broadband:

“You are making an assumption about future technology that may be able to use the fibre cable at some time in the future. So I don't know whether Gary Banks has a crystal ball in terms of what these services - what this - the fibre optic cable will be used for 5, 10, 15, 20 years,” Mr Windsor said.

Kevin Morgan, a telecommunications analyst and commentator, expressed his tough criticism of the NBN, regarding it as a waste of money. He argued that while countries that go from no broadband to broadband can reap massive gains, a study from New Zealand has shown that if you go from broadband to high speed broadband, “there is little discernable gain for the amount of money being spent.”   

Patrick Bates, a school principal in Smithton Tasmania also appeared on the program. His school has access to the NBN and uses the consistent and fast upload speeds (eight times faster than on ADSL2+) for videoconferencing. The fibre broadband is available to the school at a lower cost than the ADSL2+. He explained that video conferencing could be used for things like linking schools together, so each school could provide a wider range of subjects even if enrolments were low.

Dr Michael Williams, a Director of the Child and Adolescent Health Services at Mackay Base Hospital also used the benefits of videoconferencing as an argument in favour of the NBN.

"We could do follow-ups with some patients in the home and I think [NBN] will provide a better quality of videoconferencing in the home and on those sites.”

The debate continued via an online chat on the Insight website for one hour following the televised program. There have also been about 260 comments left on the website, highlighting the strong opinions the project has expelled since it became one of the key issues in the 2010 election.