Former NBN boss slams Coalition's 'colossal mistake'

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Former NBN boss slams Coalition's 'colossal mistake'

FTTP 'was and still is the right answer'.

Switching from a full-fibre NBN to the Coalition's multi-technology network has been "a colossal mistake", according to NBN Co founding CEO Mike Quigley.

Addressing the University of Melbourne's Networked Society Institute last night and in his first public comments since leaving NBN Co in 2013, Quigley blasted the Coalition's NBN policy and argued fibre-to-the-premise "was and is still the right answer".

He claimed the FTTP approach would have been successful if the rollout had continued as planned and would have cost $45 billion, far less than the estimates of $64 billion to $94 billion, and been completed in 2021.

Much misinformation was circulated about the original NBN plan because the network was "a politically contentious project," Quigley said. Many statements made about the NBN "were wrong."

He admitted the project had experienced some issues during his tenure but argued "they were knocked over one by one... and the [connection] volumes went up".

FTTP was ramping up quickly until asbestos was discovered in Telstra pits, halting the rollout, the former network chief argued.

"It was tackled, it was solved, life went on," Quigley said.

Then the Coalition government was elected, and its MTM policy slowed the FTTP rollout, he said.

If the focus had stayed on brownfields FTTP, the rollout could have been completed by 2021 or 2022, he claimed. Instead, another two years has passed and FTTN is "now beginning to take off" though HFC "really hasn't got out of the starting blocks".

MTM delivering little

Quigley argued the complexities introduced by the addition of fibre-to-the-node and hybrid-fibre coaxial had resulted in little more than delays to the rollout and cost blowouts.

He claimed the original estimates for the MTM network were "a fiction", and the forecasts for the cost of the FTTP network prepared by NBN Co under the Coalition government were "impossible to arrive at by any sane analysis".

The costs of FTTP were inflated and its revenue understated, Quigley argued. He claimed FTTP connections were about $500 more expensive than MTM (about $2000 less than the Coalition claimed), but the use of skinny fibre, new splitters and new connection methods means that has already fallen to $50.

The only way to justify the switch from FTTP was to make faulty assumptions and ignore technological improvements, he said - "Every forecast... the Coalition has made... every one of them has been wrong".

He gave the example of NBN Co's 2013 prediction that ARPU (average revenue per user) would be $39 a month in June 2015, where the Coalition based its plan on $29, and the actual figure in that month was $40, Quigley said.

And where the 2013 plan expected 74 percent long-term takeup, the Coalition predicted 64 percent. The current figure is 73 percent, Quigley said.

Similarly, the Coalition said the plan to launch two satellites for the long-term service would result in huge spare capacity, but NBN Co's 2015 plan noted that at least two would be needed to meet demand, Quigley said.

"Just another example where the Coalition had it completely wrong," he argued.

He labelled the MTM a" colossal mistake" that will give Australia a much more expensive fixed line network.

Spending billions on infrastructure that only just meets today's demands "is incredibly short sighted," Quigley argued, claiming it was still possible to make changes to the MTM to increase the use of full fibre without major and costly disruptions.

"It's not too late to change the direction of the NBN," he said.

"Do it once. Do it right. Do it with fibre."

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