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The federal government has no mandate for a national broadband network, according to the Turnbull government in its budget reply to parliament on Thursday.
The issue was one of several that had been raised in the budget debate – including an opposition bill to scrap $200 million in payments to Telstra and Optus – as well as the possibility of new tax breaks for large ISPs like Telstra and Optus.
“No matter where you’re from, no matter what kind of country you’re from – whether it’s developed at high altitude in the Andes or low-paid in the heartlands of this city – there is the fact this is an issue everyone faces,” Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told the media in response to a question.
“From our national parks to rural communities, to remote and rural communities, this is an issue for Australians.”
“While no government can and should determine which technologies they go with – or whether they should be there in the first place – a good start would be to ensure there are opportunities for them to be explored.”
But the Communications Minister did not support any specific government policy, including any moves to put a price on NBN Co’s wholesale copper/ISP network.
At the moment, the government’s budget reply document does not contain any policy detail for the NBN.
Telstra had warned about price competition for the NBN, as well as Labor’s NBN policy of a national rollout, and Coalition’s support for a fibre-only rollout.
However, Fifield said that the NBN “is the right thing for Australia in 2014 – and an important project for the country as a whole”.
“We need a network where the majority of Australians, from the countryside to the urban centre, can have access to high-speed broadband service,” he said.
“That requires a cost effective solution, so we have a plan that will deliver the most cost effectively way for taxpayers to fund the project.”
The government expects to cost the NBN $45 billion, and Fifield said that had no influence on the price of the network.
However the Communications Minister did say that an initial $11.5 billion would not be spent on the network: a $6 billion contingency would be used to get the national broadband network built by 2030.
Telstra said it would be a huge problem for the government if it
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