THE NBN model proposed by the Coalition if it wins power would be faster and cheaper to roll out, Telstra has declared.
Telstra chief executive David Thodey said that adopting the fibre-to-the-node network - the model favoured by an Abbott government - would be lower-cost and faster than the approach of laying fibre to the home and could result in faster payments to the telco for the use of its infrastructure, The Australian reports.
Mr Thodey also revealed that if the Coalition does take office at the election due next year, renegotiations of a multi-billion-dollar deal that secured Telstra's involvement in the NBN rollout would "not be significant in the overall structure of the deal".
The comments cast a shadow over Labor's warnings that the Coalition would face an uphill battle to strike a deal with Telstra.
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull argued this week that Telstra would get faster payments for providing access to its infrastructure under his plan as the NBN rollout would be quicker - a potentially welcome move for Telstra's 1.4 million shareholders and the millions more Australians who have a stake in the No 1 telco through superannuation funds.
Under Labor's NBN, Telstra's copper network will be replaced with a super-fast optic fibre rolled out to 93 per cent of the nation's homes and businesses, with the rest served by a mix of satellite and fixed wireless.
Under the Coalition's plan, the copper cables that run into homes would be retained instead of replaced with fibre. The fibre would stop at a cabinet - the node - that would serve a street, although it would take the more costly approach of laying fibre to the home in some instances such as in new greenfield estates and for some brownfields areas.
While he stopped short of backing either major party's broadband model, Mr Thodey said a fibre-to-the-node network would be quicker. "There are different technologies to use; they have pluses and minuses on both sides.
"Definitely fibre to the node is a faster and cheaper deployment. However, in some areas the copper has been there for a long time and there could be issues.
"If you have a purist view about an ideal world, fibre to the home is definitely the ultimate solution.
"But just like when I'm building anything within Telstra, I have to make a good trade-off in terms of the returns I get," he said.
NBN Co currently estimates it will take about 10 years to complete the NBN, but the project has already been dogged by delays that critics estimate have put the project 15 months behind schedule.
"The government needs to make their own decision about the priorities of where they're investing," Mr Thodey said.
"The Labor government made their decision about the priorities - that's their prerogative - and should the opposition ever get into power, they may have other priorities for that investment. That's their business. I can't really comment on that, but, yes, fibre to the node is a lower cost and faster deployment.
"But it may have longer-term consequences over 30 or 40 years, so it's just pluses and minuses just like any business case any commercial person would look at."
The comments have sparked another political furore over broadband policy. Last night, Mr Turnbull seized on the comments.
"Obviously we're very open to working with Telstra," Mr Turnbull said.
"The point I've made for some time is that the approach we are taking would be a win-win. It would result in the rollout being much less costly for the taxpayer and, while Telstra would get the same amount of money because the rollout would be achieved more quickly, they would get it sooner, so there is some timing benefit for them."
The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last night said: "Telstra recognise their Alan Bond when they see him."
The line was a reference to Kerry Packer's famous comment that "you only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime" as he bought back the Nine Network for a fraction of the $1bn price the businessman had paid for it a couple of years earlier.
Kevin Rudd, as prime minister, and Senator Conroy announced they had orchestrated a deal with Telstra in June 2010, but the deal only came into force last month.
Labor had threatened Telstra with curbs on its opportunity to buy wireless spectrum and to force it to divest its half-ownership of Foxtel if it were not prepared to reach agreement over the NBN.
Telstra's co-operation is important to both major parties as fibre can be rolled out more quickly, cheaply and with less overhead cabling by accessing Telstra's infrastructure, such as its exchange space, pits and ducts, while paying Telstra to migrate its customers from copper to fibre would ensure take-up.
Mr Turnbull recently revealed that he would expect Telstra to hand over ownership of its copper lines at no extra cost as it made decisions on the ground about the rollout - despite Telstra considering that the copper network has significant value.
Mr Thodey said yesterday that the opposition had indicated "they would continue with the NBN but in a slightly different technology design".
"If that's their policy then I have little concern," Mr Thodey said. "However, if there was a different policy it would be very hard to speculate. But of what has been publicly said, there should be no change."
Telstra would still get payments for migrating customers from copper to fibre, but if that was accelerated under Mr Turnbull's plans, "then there are different cash flows which could be seen as advantageous to Telstra".
"I have a contract with NBN Co and with the government that stands," Mr Thodey said.
"Should they want to renegotiate that contract my door is always open and I will negotiate in the interests of creating value for shareholders."
He emphasised that he was looking forward to the project.
Read more at The Australian.