NBN Co to roll fibre to 300,000 more premises

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NBN Co to roll fibre to 300,000 more premises

But after that, fibre future is unclear.

NBN Co will complete the rollout of fibre to 300,000 premises where building works are contracted, but there are no guarantees of fibre-to-the-premises work being completed beyond that.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today revealed an interim statement of expectations that the government sent NBN Co on September 24. (pdf)

Turnbull confirmed that existing construction works would continue, but for premises under various design stages, fibre is a less certain outcome.

For about 645,000 premises where "detailed network design" is underway, only areas "where NBN Co is in a position to hand over final designs to construction partners" may see construction commence.

Decisions on an additional 900,000 premises on the one-year rollout plan where "preliminary network design work is underway" will be taken after a review of the project is completed.

Turnbull said the review would be performed by NBN Co internally and that it was expected to be completed within 60 days of a change of management at the company.

"It will obviously have the input of experts and advisers," Turnbull said.

"But it is not my intention to have a firm of consultants produce a review that is not owned by the people that then have to live with it and execute it."

Turnbull also said that under the initial statement of expectations, NBN Co would be asked to expedite the resolution of service class zero premises — those that are counted in premises passed numbers, but that cannot get a retail internet service.

"These decisions will ensure there is a steady flow of work on the NBN until well into 2014," Turnbull said.

"This will provide certainty for contractors and ensure they do not have to demobilise workforces."

Part of the reason Turnbull indicated he did not want to commit to long-term construction numbers at this stage was to ensure that any rollout figures he provided could be realistically achieved.

"We don't propose to make any further promises or commitments until we are absolutely satisfied they are going to be correct," he said.

"There is a big difference between telling people you're planning to deliver fibre optic cables to their premises and actually doing so.

"I'm not here to make criticisms of the NBN Co. There's been a lot of extenuating circumstances at different times and it is a very difficult and complex project. The difficulty and complexity of it were probably underestimated at the outset."

Targets revised down

Turnbull said that NBN Co's rollout targets would need to be revised to take the review process into account.

"We expect this period of review will lead to revisions to the timing of the rollout and to updated forecasts," he said.

"It's important to bear in mind however that to date the NBN rollout has to date repeatedly missed its targets.

"It is our goal following the completion of the review and a new corporate plan to see the NBN Co set realistic rollout targets and then consistently deliver on them."

The interim statement sees NBN rollout targets for premises passed by fibre cut to 729,000 by the end of June 2014.

The revised forecasts are also for 1,740,000 premises passed by June 2015 and 3,115,000 premises by June 2016.

Fixed wireless

The Government has asked NBN Co to continue rolling out its fixed wireless network "but in doing so [to] take into account the very likely availability of fixed line broadband technology via VDSL in small communities not currently in the fibre fixed line footprint".

Turnbull said he had made provisions for NBN Co to trial VDSL technologies for use in the network deployment, particularly for multi-dwelling units such as apartment blocks.

New transparency

The interim statement also commits NBN Co to publish weekly statistics on premises passed, service class zero premises and the number of active users on each portion of its network.

It comes after a period where NBN Co has slowly retracted a number of publicly-accessible sources of rollout information.

Turnbull said he expected NBN Co to have transparency equal to or greater than that of a "publicly-listed company".

He also said he had set out his expectations for transparency to NBN Co staff before publicly releasing the text of the interim statement.

"As I've said to NBN staff today, I'm not interested in being given information that people may think will conform to my particular political agenda, whatever they may imagine that to be," Turnbull said.

"We want from NBN Co nothing more or less than the plain unvarnished facts.

"I'm not making any criticism of anybody here by the way, let me be clear about that. But what we need in the future is the facts."

Board changes

Much speculation this week has rested on a renewal of NBN Co's board structure after it was confirmed today that Turnbull had asked most of the present board to resign.

Turnbull is expected to appoint former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski as NBN Co's chairman, and to keep two of the existing directors to form a quorum, according to The Australian Financial Review.

The report stated the board make-up would be filled out "over time".

Turnbull would not be drawn on speculation of the new board make-up, other than to say that it would be announced in "due process".

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