Broadband Numbers Used To Attack Howard Now Being Used By Conroy To Bolster NBN

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The Federal Opposition has launched another attack on Communications Minister Stephen Conroy claiming that he is using multi tasking broadband numbers to suite his own spin on the National Broadband Network.Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, a former Optus executive, claims that Conroy when in opposition, used penertration numbers to attack the Howard Government.

Back in 2006, Conroy claimed Australia’s OECD ‘Broadband Penetration Rate’ (BBR) ranking of 17th out of 30 OECD countries was indicative of the Howard Government’s “complete lack of broadband infrastructure leadership.” 

But once Opposition-Stephen became Government-Stephen, he used the OECD statistics to make a very different argument: that OECD statistics show that whatever the government is doing, it just needs to do more of it. In 2010, Conroy claimed that Australia’s OECD BBR ranking of 18th out of 31 OECD countries reinforced the need for the government to get on with delivering the NBN.

Fletcher accused Conroy of having an each way bet.

“Conroy also blamed this outcome on poor service by the telecommunications industry – not the poor job done by a Labor government in its second term in power. Conroy’s view had been very different three years before; when he reacted to Australia achieving exactly the same ranking of 18th by saying it showed Australia was a “broadband backwater,” said Fletcher.

The OECD broadband penetration statistics measure the number of fixed line broadband services per 100 people in the country. They are a standardised measure of broadband penetration, used to compare performance across countries.  

During his time in opposition, Stephen Conroy frequently cited these statistics as evidence of the Howard government’s failed broadband policies. From 2004 to 2007, Conroy regularly used the release of the OECD statistics to trumpet what he claimed were the failings of the Liberal government in broadband policy.

In 2005, Conroy claimed that Australia’s ranking of 21st was an “appalling result”.  He continued to run this line in the following years despite Australia moving up in the rankings from 21st in 2004 to 14th in 2007.

We can only imagine how thunderous Opposition-Stephen would have been in his condemnation of the performance actually delivered by Government-Stephen.

When Labor came to power in 2007, our OECD ranking was 16th. In 2011 our ranking had fallen to 21st.  Furthermore, Australia’s fixed broadband penetration rate has actually fallen in absolute terms – from 24.80 in 2008 to 23.96 in 2011. By contrast, during the Howard government years, broadband penetration rates consistently increased.

It’s pretty obvious why Australia’s broadband penetration rate has gotten worse under Labor.  The uncertainty created by Labor’s policy has brought private sector investment in fixed line broadband to a halt.  At the same time, the much vaunted public sector project to revolutionise broadband has delivered virtually nothing. More than five years after Labor first announced its broadband policy in March 2007, there are fewer than 5000 Australians receiving a fixed-line broadband service on the NBN.

Conroy has not issued a media release about the OECD broadband statistics since 2010 – a period in which Australia’s broadband penetration rate has worsened and our ranking has dropped. 

It’s hardly surprising that Government-Stephen is so taciturn when Opposition-Stephen was so loquacious. If what Opposition-Stephen repeatedly said is true – that you judge the success of broadband policy by its impact on Australia’s OECD broadband penetration ranking – then Government-Stephen has comprehensively failed.

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