Representatives of the Vertigan panel have told a parliamentary committee that using the results of NBN Co’s controversial Melton trial as a basis to challenge the findings of their cost benefit analysis would be “hazardous”.
The panel’s representatives were responding to attempts by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to cast doubt on the validity of their findings - that the Coalition's multi-technology mix would have the greatest net benefit to society as opposed to all-fibre - on grounds that they failed to take account of potential rollout acceleration purported to have taken place at the Melbourne suburb.
The Melton rollout involved 2482 homes and tested new construction methods outlined in the company’s strategic review initiated by former chief executive, Mike Quigley.
An internal NBN Co document relating to the trial, leaked to Fairfax Media, claimed NBN Co could roll out fibre to the premise (FTTP) 60 percent faster and at much lower cost if it used advanced mathematical planning and thinner forms of fibre.
At today's committee hearing, Senator Conroy raised concerns about the panel’s assumptions on timelines for the FTTP rollout as prescribed in Labor’s previous all-fibre national broadband model, considering the results of the Melton trial.
The panel defended its report, and said the findings were based on information that came from NBN Co’s strategic review, which took account of new construction techniques adopted at Melton.
Panel member and economist Henry Ergas said given "significant variances on an area by area basis", trying to generalise the Melton findings on a national level would be "in my view, at least, extremely hazardous".
He said until the results of the trial had been replicated in different contexts and the "causative factors carefully assessed," the results would be anecdotal.
At a similar hearing last week, NBN Co chief Bill Morrow warned that the leaked document had not been thoroughly reviewed by the company and thus had not achieved the status of being an official company document.
NBN Co said it expected to complete a review of the leaked Melton document in the coming weeks.