The Department of Communications will look to the forthcoming NBN corporate plan for assurance that take-up for the Sky Muster satellite service can be increased to recover missed targets.
Broadband implementation assistant secretary Andrew Madsen confirmed the government is watching Sky Muster closely after NBN Co missed financial year 2018 take-up targets by about 10 percent.
Satellite activations were forecast to be 100,000 by the end of FY18, according to the last corporate plan. The company achieved a shade over 90,000 activations, according to its weekly report.
“We’re looking at the take-up rate,” Madsen told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday night.
“I think we’d say the take-up rate is slightly lower than had been forecast, but it is still relatively early in the lifespan of the satellites and we are looking to see what activity NBN Co is taking to continue to promote awareness of the satellites, particularly working with regional stakeholders.”
Pressed by Labor MP Stephen Jones as to whether the department is “concerned” at Sky Muster’s slow progress, Madsen suggested the government’s position would be informed by the next corporate plan, which is due out at the end of this month.
“I think we will be probably waiting to see what NBN Co says in its corporate plan and projects about the take-up rate over the next year, and whether it estimates that’s going to then come back up to its long term trajectory,” Madsen said.
NBN Co had been targeting a doubling of take-up on the Sky Muster service over the course of this financial year - from 100,000 to 200,000 activated premises, according to the last corporate plan.
It’s unclear how this might have to change in the new corporate plan, but it seems likely it will have to be revised down significantly, given the actual pace of take-up.
Between January 11 and August 9 this year, only 7771 premises activated a Sky Muster connection - a period that equates to 57 percent of a year.
At that pace, NBN Co would be lucky to activate 14,000 premises this year, meaning it is on track to fall significantly short of the previous 200,000 target.
Madsen indicated the department had been encouraged by actions taken by NBN Co to address Sky Muster take-up so far.
“I think some of the changes they’ve made over the course of the last financial year, particularly looking at their fair use policy and the additional data allowances have resulted in the satellites delivering a better range of services,” he said.
NBN Co chief financial officer Stephen Rue said that the company is relying on its ‘NBN Local’ team and a fleet of trucks that travel to rural and remote areas to demonstrate the capabilities of Sky Muster.
Rue largely sidestepped the issue of take-up.
“RSPs are aware of the product and that end users on the product are very happy with the service they receive,” he said.
“RSPs have every reason to market the product to their end users.”
But the service continues to suffer from a poor market image that hasn’t been helped by problems like a bad firmware update to modems that caused unexplained outages for many users.
The service has also recently been described as a “dumping ground” for premises that are deemed too hard to serve with other NBN technologies, meaning it is being left to serve a footprint other than that which was originally intended.