Senate Committee Report: Dump the NBN

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Senate Committee Report: Dump the NBN

Not exactly a consensus view.

The NBN Senate Select Committee has handed down its fourth interim report, which ultimately recommends that the Government scrap the national broadband network.

It was a less than unanimous call from the senators involved.

Even the majority - from the Liberal and National parties combined - effectively conceded there wasn't much chance of the Government dumping the project.

"If, in the alternative, the Government insists on progressing the NBN, [we recommend] it be progressed in accordance with the recommendations contained in the remainder of this report," the committee said.

That means answering to some 25 recommendations covering the full gamut of issues that could potentially arise from the $43 billion network project.

It wass unclear how many of the recommendations will gain industry support outside of Coalition circles and those of a couple of major telcos.

Government senators on the panel, including Senator Kate Lundy, said some of the report's recommendations "weren't entirely without merit".

But the Government slammed the Opposition for wanting the project to be scrapped.

"They say they don’t want an FTTH network yet they recognise it as a superior technology," the Government said in a dissenting report.

"They say that the NBN is no good for the mainland – and that they’ll abandon it - but it’s good for Tasmania.

"They complain that they can see little progress yet they take every opportunity to obstruct the roll-out of the network.

"They say they cannot judge the merits of the NBN before they see the [NBN] Implementation Study; yet they declared that they will abandon it before the study was released.

"They said they could not consider any NBN-related legislation before seeing the Implementation Study, but they announce that they will not pass anything anyway.

"And they say the NBN costs too much but they recommend measures that will make it more costly."

The Greens were critical of both camps.

"[We] do not agree with the majority that the absence of a cost-benefit analysis alone justifies abandoning the NBN," Senator Scott Ludlam said.

"However, the majority's broader point that this project has been rushed ahead in the absence of adequate planning is well made.

"The Australian Greens agree with many of the majority's recommendations.

"However, our views diverge at a number of important points, including from the general tone of outraged hostility that infuses much of the majority's commentary."

Key recommendations

Consumer groups, the report said, should be engaged more heavily in the consultation process (recommendation 8).

The Government should also set up a consumer advisory group dedicated to NBN Co (recommendation 19).

The report also deals with issues of clarity around NBN Co's role and how it impacts the rest of the telco industry. For example, recommendation 21 asked the Government to "make public its intentions as to the future of Telstra's universal service obligation (USO) in relation to telephony services."

Telstra's decision to cease future copper rollouts in new housing estates had cast a cloud over the USO in recent months. iTnews reported last month that it's possible for other companies to take on the responsibility under Australian law. Apart from OptiComm examining that option in new housing estates, there have so far been no takers.

A number of the Senate Committee's recommendations come down to the wording of various legislation the Government has released for debate. Some of that wording is specific to when the Government plans to sell off its stake in network.

Recommendations 27 and 28 demand the Government and NBN Co release detailed plans on when NBN Co will roll past homes over the construction period.

Number 10 is likely to win more support from industry: "[We recommend] that the implementation plan prioritise the servicing of regional and remote locations so that the network is 'rolled-into' urban areas from regional and rural areas," the committee said.

iTnews is aware of several greenfields network builders that are proponents of this type of approach, which would see backhaul links rolled out from exchanges to new housing estates, with tails running off into the urban areas passed along the way.

The committee still has another month or so to hand down its final report.

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