NBN Co is offering individuals pursuing an upgrade from fibre-to-the-node to full fibre a chance to cancel their applications and be issued refunds - in the hope of being able to get the same upgrade for free.
But cancelling an in-train ‘technology choice’ application comes with the risk of not being included in the company’s free upgrade plans, or being included but having to wait a number of years - and NBN Co is still banking on some customers being too impatient for the upgrade lottery or the wait.
In late September, NBN Co said it would spend $2.9 billion to make full fibre connections an option for about half the FTTN footprint. Users would need to order a higher speed plan to qualify.
Speaking before an NBN senate committee hearing, NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue confirmed that applicants under the company’s ‘technology choice’ user-pays upgrade program that were considering financing their own upgrade for an FTTN connection could “cease their application” if they wanted.
“What we have done is for people who have put in a technology choice application but where we have not yet commenced the build, we have offered to cease their application and [provide them with] a refund for the application fee,” Rue said.
Rue said that individuals that had paid for an FTTN upgrade and had it built at their own expense would not qualify for any reimbursement.
“Where we have actually built out the service, the person is obviously receiving a benefit today,” he said.
Chief operating officer Kathrine Dyer said NBN Co had already incurred costs on those builds, and these would differ considerably from what the company could achieve on a broader upgrade basis.
“The technology choice connection or build we do is bespoke,” she said.
“We look at those applications individually, create an individual design, and that’s an individual construction effort, so we have incurred those costs as part of that individual bespoke build.”
Rue added that there was no guarantee that previously FTTN users that had paid their own upgrade would be in an area that is included in NBN Co’s free fibre upgrade plans.
The same goes for FTTN users with active technology choice applications; though if they cancel and have their fees refunded, they still risk not being in a designated upgrade area, delaying access to a line capable of supporting higher broadband speeds.
“We do expect the technology choice program to be very popular moving forward because people are interested in being able to connect to a higher speed programs on the NBN ahead of time, and obviously they’re not sure - and we’re not sure yet because we’re still working through the plan of - where we’ll roll out FTTP.”
It is not clear when, but NBN Co said in September it would make major changes to the technology choice program in the future, providing instant quotes via an online tool and removing application fees.
NBN Co has so far revealed areas where 100,000 out of 2 million premises are likely to get the free fibre upgrade.
Dyer said the company hoped to start releasing the names of qualifying areas more regularly in 2021.
"We’re aiming to progressively roll out more information over the coming months," she said.
"We are hopeful in the New Year that we will start releasing on a consistent basis the areas that we’ll be progressively rolling out in, but it’s quite a complex process we’re working through in the organisation."