Govt to 'consider' lifting NBN Co info embargo

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Govt to 'consider' lifting NBN Co info embargo

Makes no promises.

The Federal Government has delayed consideration of a parliamentary committee's recommendation to be more transparent on NBN delays until all regulatory hurdles for the network are cleared.

The committee had called in August of last year for NBN Co to publish a "detailed account of impacts" of delays finalising multi-million agreements with Telstra and Optus were having on the network rollout.

It took the Government five months to formulate a response [pdf] to the recommendation. However, the response fell short of guaranteeing openness on cost and time delays to the NBN rollout.

The Government said only that it would “consider the recommendation” but made no commitments to publish any details sought by the committee, citing "legitimate commercial interests".

Regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of the Government's "consideration" of the committee's recommendation include ratification of the Telstra agreement by Federal cabinet, and ACCC approval of an agreement between NBN Co and Optus.

Though Telstra’s agreement is set to be ratified, there is no firm time frame on when the Optus approval might come.

Clear picture

The committee had sought a clearer picture of the "timing and cost" impacts, particularly of the eight-month delay in securing the $11 billion agreement with Telstra that includes access to its pit-and-pipe infrastructure.

The actual effect is expected to be revealed in NBN Co’s three-year rollout plan, due this month.

Further time frames are also expected in the company’s second corporate plan in May.

However, NBN Co has already indicated it will fall well short of initial goals to reach 1.22 million premises by June next year.

It revealed last month it planned to have “passed or begun construction” on 758,100 premises by the end of this year based on a 12-month forward rollout plan.

Similarly, the 18,000 active services currently on the network are unlikely to grow to reach the 116,000 services it initially planned to reach in the next four months.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy acknowledged that the Telstra deal was the “single greatest delay” in the project.

The Government acknowledged delays but insisted it would “protect the interests of Australian taxpayers and support the NBN rollout”.

“NBN Co will proactively manage the construction timetable over the life of the project to minimise and overcome any delays,” it said.

Behind schedule

The committee’s recommendation to publish more details was the only one of five included in the initial report that the Government did not wholly support or support in principle.

In line with the other recommendations, NBN Co had begun publishing progress reports on the network build twice a year while the Government used its response to push the productivity and sector-specific benefits of the NBN.

It pointed to the whole-of-government service delivery reform as proof of the Government’s approval of the committee’s recommendations.

The Government is yet to respond officially to recommendations in the committee’s second report - released in November last year - which focused on access to broadband by regional and rural Australia, as well as low-income earners.

It also recommended Senator Conroy’s portfolio department, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, “review its existing clearance processes” to speed up the time taken to answer questions put on notice by committee members.

A third report is due later this year.

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