NBN Co is leaving complex premises for last

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NBN Co is leaving complex premises for last

Drive to inflate numbers could leave some waiting for years.

Homes and businesses that are connected to the NBN but can't get a service may be forced to wait years for their problems to be fixed as NBN Co relegates complex cases in favour of boosting numbers.

Appearing before a senate estimates committee hearing today, NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow revealed the network builder's engineers had been told to avoid work on so-called service class zero premises and focus instead on scaling the rollout.

This approach first reared its head early last year when the federal government changed its migration policy to allow for a six-month extension on disconnection dates for tricky connections.

It allowed NBN Co to shift problem properties out from a rollout region and into a special "service continuity region" with an extra six months to complete the connection.

Service class zero customers have long been a headache for NBN Co: problems often weren't discovered until a retail order was placed by the user, leaving the customer unable to order either an NBN or Telstra copper service until remediation work was completed.

Three years ago service class zero premises represented one-third of the entire rollout.

Since the network builder pledged in 2014 to ensure a higher level of serviceability, rates of service class zero premises have dropped to around five percent at current standing.

NBN Co's most recent weekly progress report [pdf] puts the number of service class zero premises at 108,606, out of a total 1.94 premises activated.

But Morrow revealed the network builder had now shifted focus to prioritise boosting rollout numbers, conceding some end users could be left waiting "years" before their connection difficulties are resolved.

"Our commitment is everybody will have broadband connectivity by 2020. And the faster we can go in terms of serving as many Australians as we can is our objective," he said.

"If we had to divert a bunch of resources that would slow down the volumes to be able to handle one premise ... that isn't something we would do.

"It could well be that we're coming back to address that home next year or the potentially the year after."

He said while NBN Co 'understood' the frustration this situation causes for end users, "we are here to service the entire nation".

"Not any one individual person. So it's the collective approach that we're taking," Morrow told the committee.

"Everybody will come back and be addressed by the year 2020, and hopefully sooner rather than later for those premises that have already kicked in."

Getting the vast majority of Australians onto the network faster was also more fiscally responsible, he argued.

"Our remit that we pass down to our teams is 'get the volumes through on this thing, because the more people we connect, the faster, the better off the people of Australia are going to be' ... and the retailers can then sell more earlier, which brings on more revenue that helps with the cash flow issue," Morrow said.

"So we're financially prudent and, on the bigger picture of Australia, being more prudent in this approach."

Morrow took on notice the number of service class premises NBN Co had addressed in the last calendar year.

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