Another day, another volley of outlandish propaganda from The Australian. Be more specific, you say! Which particular war — on Labor, on the ABC, on bloggers, on the Greens? No, it’s the war on the NBN, with another series of articles slamming the roll out today.

That’s in addition to not one but two furious reactions to being called on its campaign by Stephen Conroy, with a comment piece by Matt ‘I don’t do comment pieces’ Franklin today and a hard-hitting, no-holds barred interview yesterday of editor Chris Mitchell by the unfortunate Geoff Elliott, in which Mitchell offered the stinging retort to Conroy: ‘I know you are, but what am I?’

Beneath the cover of sanctimony and lies, however, there was some furious rowing back going on at our very own right-wing version of The Onion.

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A critical part of the attack on the NBN has been around the idea of households being forced to use the network and compelled to spend large amounts of money to do so. The Australian ran a story just before the election claiming it would cost households $3000 to connect to the NBN. Conroy has been complaining this week about The Australian claiming it would cost $6000. Today, the paper ran a response denying it had ever used the higher figure.

The Oz is right. It never used $6000. That would be another News Limited publication, The Daily Telegraph, where noted technology guru Piers Akerman claimed it would “cost every household between $6000 and $10,000”.

Conroy should gets his facts right about which News Ltd outlet is lying through its teeth before he attacks them.

Not merely is the $6000 figure complete rubbish, so is the $3000 figure. How do we know? Well, The Oz admitted it today. Under cover of its attack on Conroy, its latest line is that wiring will cost $400 a room. You’d have to wire up the bedrooms, the garage and all the toilets to get anywhere close to $3000, let alone Piers’ $10,000. In fact it gets cheaper the further you read. The actual figure is later given as between $250 and $400. Eventually, it’s down to $100 a port for new houses.

But even those figures don’t stack up. As Mike Quigley pointed out at Estimates on Tuesday night, NBN users in Tasmania are using the network without any upgrading of their in-home wiring. They’re using their existing routers, wi-fi or blue cables. To take advantage of very high speeds, yes, you’ll need to upgrade your wiring and switches, or have your ISP do it for you. Or, more realistically, you’ll upgrade next time you buy some new hardware like a PC or a router.

But The Australian’s agenda is to suggest you’ll be compelled to spend money, when you won’t.

That’s but one line of attack on the NBN. There are some recurring elements. “Wage blowout threat to NBN” it screeched on September 10, claiming the NBN budget would blow out by nearly $1.5 billion due to labour shortages. One of its sources was James Tinslay, head of the electrical sector employers’ group the National Electrical and Communications Association. Tinslay was heavily involved in the housing insulation program saga, as NECA had given early warnings to the government about it, but he is also a persistent critic of the government’s IR system and a go-to man for The Australian when it wants a quote critical of the Fair Work laws. NECA, after all, is a long-term foe of the Electrical Trades Union.

Tinslay was also the source for the $3000 claim. That was the price, he claimed, of what the journalists concerned called a “standard retrofit” to use the NBN.

So who was the source for today’s new claim that it would only be $400 a room, a figure entirely at odds with Tinslay’s? Why, step forward … James Tinslay. He is quoted today saying “the cost of installing cable to various rooms in a house would cost between $250 and $400 a port”. Why the difference from a couple of months ago? The Australian doesn’t say.

To be fair to News Ltd, it isn’t alone in peddling nonsense about the NBN. Fairfax’s Georgina Robinson and Ben Grubb managed to trump the efforts of the national broadsheet yesterday with a story now entitled ‘Minister threatens to use law to force people on NBN if states revolt‘. On Fairfax’s Tech page, it goes by the lurid headline ‘I’ll force NBN on everyone’. That, of course, is the handiwork of the sub-editors, not the journalists concerned. But Conroy, according to the story itself, would use federal law to “force people on to the NBN”.

Conroy in fact has been making clear all week that people can decline to be connected to the network, even after the copper network is removed. He told Estimates on Tuesday night: “So people can opt to say, ‘no, when the copper’s taken away, we don’t want you to put in a piece of fibre’. People will be able to make that choice. They can go purely mobile now or fixed wireless.” Conroy’s office confirmed this morning that remains the case.

Still, presumably that’s not as interesting as the image of Conroy making that midnight knock on the door to barge in to your home, drill a hole in your wall and take $400 out of your wallet. Or $3000. Or $6000. Or $10,000.

Expect more from your journalism.

Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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