NBN inquiry demands drastic refocus of broadband project

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NBN inquiry demands drastic refocus of broadband project

But government unlikely to agree.

A joint federal inquiry into the NBN wants a drastic overhaul of the project, including an independent audit, better information, and a “minimum” of fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) in the rest of the fixed-line footprint.

The year-long inquiry, which is chaired by government MP Sussan Ley, quietly published its 210-page opus in the shadows of the upcoming Labour Day long weekend. (pdf)

The findings of the inquiry paint an incredibly damaging picture of the national broadband network.

However, it was unclear how many - if any - of the 23 detailed recommendations would ever be put into practice.

All five Liberal members of the inquiry - including the chair - issued a dissenting report, defending the government’s rollout strategy and NBN Co’s progress in executing it.

The government members said that any changes would have to be paid for, either by internet users in higher retail prices or by the taxpayer as more funds were sought.

They also said that “on all measures, Bill Morrow and the rest of the executive team at NBN Co have done a phenomenal job in turning the company around”.

The joint NBN committee’s make-up is seven ALP and five Liberal, with one representative each from the National Party, Team Xenophon, Greens, One Nation and one independent.

The Nationals representative Andrew Broad MP did not sign on to the government’s dissenting report.

The committee’s major recommendation that FTTC be set as a minimum standard for the remainder of the fixed line network is ALP policy and likely to reflect their committee membership influence.

While this might be relatively easy to duck, other committee recommendations are likely to reignite fierce debate in the industry and among broadband users.

The second major ask by the committee is for the “Australian Government [to] commission an independent audit and assessment of the long-term assumptions underpinning NBN Co's financial projections and business case as set out in the Corporate Plan 2018-21”.

The network builder’s economics and future financial sustainability have been under increasing pressure over the past year.

NBN Co is increasingly looking at new markets like enterprises to meet 2020 revenue targets that otherwise appear unachievable based on the amount of bandwidth that retail service providers are purchasing, and a stagnant average revenue per [consumer] user.

Another major request is that “clear information” be published “about the maximum attainable Layer 2 speed of NBN infrastructure/services on a per premise basis”.

NBN Co has a database containing this information, which it has been under pressure to reveal in recent months as customers find themselves on connections unable to sustain speeds they thought were achievable.

The committee also wants consumers and RSPs alike to be protected from problems caused by the NBN rollout, particularly missed appointments and blame-shifting between parties over who is responsible for a repair.

“The committee recommends that the regulation of broadband wholesale services be overhauled to establish clear rights and protections for suppliers and end users of NBN broadband services,” it said.

“This framework should include: service connection and fault repair timeframes; minimum network performance and reliability; and compensation arrangements when these standards are not met.

“The committee requests that the Department [of Communications] brief the committee on progress in developing these protections by December 2017.”

The government members fired back, saying they had already embarked on a range of initiatives to fix the problems and that they should be given more time to have an effect, given "most of them being at just the earliest stage of implementation".

Many of the committee’s biggest wants are simply access to more information across all aspects of the rollout.

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