NBN Co given the opportunity to save the current NBN

I am very pleased with Malcolm Turnbull’s inaugural speech on the NBN, which now resides under his leadership.

For me the key issue was that the review that he has announced is, in his own words, ‘not dogmatic’. He has first of all asked NBN Co to review its operations with the aim of coming up with changes that will see lower costs and a faster rollout within the current parameters of the project, this being mainly an FttH rollout.

He explicitly mentioned that he does not want NBN Co to come up with solutions that it believes would fit his or his government’s political agenda. He also did not appoint consultants to carry out the review, which again could be linked to a political agenda. So, in short, praise for the way Malcolm is taking the NBN forward.

In various blogs I have indicated that rollouts in other parts of the world –namely the Netherlands, France and Kansas City in the USA – show that fibre can be rolled out significantly more cheaply than is apparently the case in Australia. I have spoken to several FttH experts from overseas and they have already offered ideas and suggestions; and they are ready to assist further to indicate where costs can be saved.

It is now up to NBN Co to make changes to its plan that would allow it to continue the project, under the existing specifications but in a much more effective and efficient way. And, according to the experts I talk to, this is possible. NBN Co should therefore be able to come up with a better plan, based on the new situation that has presented itself to them under the new government.

Here are some key elements that we believe are important in relation to this plan ….

It is important to remember that when the NBN was conceived (2007-2009) the government was involved in a battle with Telstra, which wanted to maintain its monopoly. Shortly after that the Opposition indicated that it would kill the NBN. This placed an enormous amount of political pressure on NBN Co, which was certainly not conducive to an effective and efficient running of the operation.

This is now no longer the case and the review could be used by NBN Co to weed out any of the elements that were put into the early plan of the NBN for the abovementioned reasons. Furthermore, international experience can also be used to look at the key goals the government wants to achieve – cheaper and faster.

As well as this the technology has not been standing still during those years. It is now up to NBN Co to show that it is indeed able to build as much as possible of the original NBN, cheaper and faster.

Obviously if, within the context of the original vision, there are reasons in certain circumstances to use different (interim) technologies then by all means these should be taken into account. For example, the DSL technology can be used, very effectively and at significant lower cost, in apartment buildings, and still deliver a similar broadband experience to customers. These are some of the low-hanging fruits that NBN Co can pick; now it is unshackled from some of the previous (politically-driven) conditions set by the previous government.

There will be other situations – for instance, in areas where the rollout will not happen until 2020 or even later, if a quicker DSL solution (eg VDSL vectoring) can be used for the interim period, this will enable NBN Co to deliver fast broadband much more quickly to those customers.

Obviously a continuation of the original plan, albeit reshaped and reformatted, is the least disruptive course; and if NBN Co can deliver on this it would be by far the best solution. However, if they fail in this alternative plans will have to be looked at and that would be a far more complicated way to proceed.

It is now up to NBN Co, with the assistance of the industry and FttH experts, to show the government that we can continue with the original strategic vision. We all should grasp this opportunity with both hands.

Paul Budde

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