Conroy's unconvincing rollout promises

The communications minster may be touting some big numbers when it comes to selling the NBN rollout. But is spouting 'meaningless' facts and figures good enough to disguise the poor rate of fibre delivery?

NBN Co’s move to add more locations to its fibre rollout roadmap had just about everything the Gillard government needed to renew its claim that it’s the only political party with the will to deliver a top notch National Broadband Network. But was this a case of spouting meaningless facts and figures to disguise to cheap politicking?

Well, yes and no. The addition of more than 1.35 million premises to the rollout in the updated three-year plan does little to address the problems that have plagued the rollout so far. But then that was never the objective of the NBN Co exercise last weekend.

The event was designed to welcome the Labor NBN to metropolitan Sydney and along the way provide communications minister Stephen Conroy a platform to score some hits against the Coalition.

And Conroy certainly delivered on that promise. The communications minister exuded confidence that the rollout remained on track, although there is still plenty of dispute about the metrics. This was followed by the requisite warning of Tony Abbott hacking and slashing the Australian broadband dream, leaving millions beholden to a sub-standard service.

“The only risk to Labor's NBN is Tony Abbott. Under Tony Abbott, households across the country will have their planned connection cancelled and be forced to pay up to $5,000 or be left disconnected from Labor's NBN.

“There are already over 50,000 Australians using the NBN today, with NBN fibre construction commenced or complete for almost 1 million homes, businesses, schools and hospitals in over 80 communities across the country.”

For the record, the updated plan from NBN Co will see construction commence or be complete in 4.8 million premises by June 30 2016.

That includes:

  • An additional 406,100 premises in New South Wales, bringing the total number of premises with construction commenced or complete to more than 1,416,800
  • An additional 303,000 premises in Victoria, bringing the total number of premises with construction commenced or complete to more than 994,600
  • An additional 255,700 premises in Queensland, bringing the total number of premises with construction commenced or complete to more than 934,300
  • An additional 181,500 premises in Western Australia, bringing the total number of premises with construction commenced or complete to more than 610,700
  • An additional 117,700 premises in South Australia, bringing the total number of premises with construction commenced or complete to more than 445,000
  • An additional 45,000 premises in the Australian Capital Territory, bringing the total number of premises with construction commenced or complete to more than 180,300
  • In the Northern Territory, the rollout of the NBN will be complete for more than 65,400 premises by the end of 2015.
  • In Tasmania, the rollout of the NBN will be complete for more than 208,400 homes and businesses by the end of 2015.
  • And more than 7,303 schools, 663 hospitals, 120 university campuses and 1,415 aged care facilities across the country.

The numbers may seem optimistic but it’s hard to expect anything else from Minister Conroy, who has to stick to the script, whether we like it or not.

And there’s no reason to doubt the resolve of NBN Co when it comes to delivering the services, except of course for the fact that it has so far been unable to meet any of its targets. That’s not all NBN Co’s fault but when you conceptualise delivering a fibre to the premises (FttP) network to 93 per cent of Australians based on scribbles on the back of a coaster, you are asking for trouble.

A clear example of this dissonance is the "construction commenced or completed" metric being touted by the Gillard government. It’s a metric that has been roundly criticised by industry experts with iiNet’s chief technology officer telling The Australian Financial Review that the emphasis needs to be on the exact connection dates and active connections.

The sentiment is the same from the general public. Big numbers may make impressive sound bites but most just want to know when they are getting the service and aren’t willing to accept NBN Co’s promises on face value anymore. Unfortunately for Labor, the Coalition’s technologically inadequate NBN alternative promises faster delivery of services and that message may hold more sway over the public than any other factor.

What happens after the federal election is anyone’s guess, especially given the numerous unknowns in the Coalition’s plan. However, the trials and tribulations of the current NBN Co may have allowed the Coalition to wing it until it comes to power in Canberra.

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