NBN rollout in Tasmania a 'shambolic' mess

State’s peak IT business group,TASICT, warns there is “no realistic chance” the project will be completed by the end of 2015.

The National Broadband Network rollout in Tasmania — which Labor promised would be the first state fully connected to lightning-fast internet services — has been “so shambolic” and failed “so abysmally” to meet its targets that urgent political intervention is needed.

The Weekend Australian can reveal the state’s peak IT business group, a longstanding supporter of Labor’s original “Rolls-Royce” NBN, has warned there is “no realistic chance” the project will be completed by the end of 2015, as once promised by former communications minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co.

The Tasmanian ICT sector peak body, known as TASICT, says the process for connecting new customers to the optic fibre network is failing.

The warnings have national significance as the NBN Co prepares a new corporate plan for the entire $41 billion project to give effect to the Coalition’s promise of a “multi-tech­nology mix” to deliver the project sooner and more cheaply.

A devastating strategic review found cost blowouts and delays had plagued the nation’s biggest infrastructure project, with “significant queues” in connections and disputes over construction-related contracts.

Tasmania is considered a testbed for the national rollout of high-speed broadband, with Senator Conroy having said it would provide “valuable learnings” for the wider mainland build. The Coalition has not put a deadline on the Tasmanian project. But the office of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the rollout had started again at the end of last year after being “completely stalled” under Labor.

The NBN Co said it now had commitments to “fibre” as many Tasmanian premises this year as had been passed in the previous five years — but the rollout would not be achieved “by continuing to set heroic targets”.

In a submission obtained by The Weekend Australian, ­TASICT says that without “urgent political intervention, the project will continue to fail Tasmania” and laments that the project has been used a “political tool” by all major parties.

“The first-mover NBN advantage once trumpeted as an economic saviour for Tasmania, is gone,” the submission says.

The submission was written by the group’s executive officer, Dean Winter, who ran as an ALP candidate for the 2012 Tasmanian upper house seat of Hobart.

It also warns that Tasmanians “now wonder if they will ever get the NBN”.

“Business has lost enthusiasm for the project ...

“Tasmania, already dealing with an inadequate communications infrastructure, faces lengthy delays to ever see the project completed.”

The submission says the rollout is still not back on track, but backs Mr Turnbull’s move to trial the use of overhead cables on Aurora’s power poles as ­potentially faster and cheaper. and a way to have more direct fibre connections. It also says telephone and internet service providers — who sell the NBN to homes — are frustrated by “the lack of certainty about which technology will be used, the slow pace of the rollout and the failing process for connecting new customers to the network”.

Under the rollout, the NBN is connected to a utility box on the outside of a home or business. People who want to switch their phone and internet to the NBN contact a retail service provider, who makes an appointment for an NBN installer to put in equipment.

But the submission says the connection process in Tasmania has been “farcical”.

Customers were being hit with long wait times between ordering and connecting to the NBN and there were estimates up to 50 per cent of appointments with customers are being missed by NBN contractors.

“There is anecdotal evidence that some of these appointments are being ignored because ­contractors arrive at the appointment, identify a difficult or time-consuming job and make an assessment it is not worth the rate being offered,” the submission says.

Last year an asbestos shutdown delayed the project. Also, there were disputes between Visionstream — lead contractor on the island — and subcontractors over pay. While there were 20,065 premises passed by the NBN by June 1, 2013, the rollout all but came to a complete halt over the following months.

By December 2, there were 32,271 passed. For the week to April 21, there were 36,117 brownfields passed. In December, ­Visionstream said it was accelerating its rollout of fibre to more than 200,000 premises.

The TasICT submission says it was clear by June last year there were significant “issues” in Tasmania, but these “were never dealt with by the government of the day”.

“In fact, they were completely ignored and the rollout had almost stopped by September 2013. It was hoped these issues would be addressed by a new government and the rollout could get back on track. To date, this has not happened.”

Mr Turnbull’s spokesman said since the rollout started again at the end of last year, more than 4000 extra premises have been passed in brownfields areas. Visionstream had been ­issued with build contract instructions for 17,000 premises, while advanced planning was under way in areas with a further 19,000.

“With premises already passed that brings the number of homes and businesses committed to NBN fibre by the end of the year to about a third of premises in the state,” Mr Turnbull’s spokesman said.

NBN Co spokesman Andrew Sholl said construction standards were being improved so homes were connected at the same time that fibre was rolled down the street and existing infrastructure was being incorporated into the network.

Before the federal election, TasICT lobbied for Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises model to stay on the island, rather than the ­Coalition’s model that uses Telstra’s copper for the final few hundred metres to homes.

TasICT has made its comments in a submission to a private bill proposed by Tasmanian ALP Senator Anne Urquhart that would force the NBN Co to provide only FTTP to at least 200,000 premises on the island. The group opposes the bill.

, as once promised by former communications minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co.

The Tasmanian ICT sector peak body, known as TASICT, says the process for connecting new customers to the optic fibre network is failing.

The warnings have national significance as the NBN Co prepares a new corporate plan for the entire $41 billion project to give effect to the Coalition’s promise of a “multi-tech­nology mix” to deliver the project sooner and more cheaply.

A devastating strategic review found cost blowouts and delays had plagued the nation’s biggest infrastructure project, with “significant queues” in connections and disputes over construction-related contracts.

Tasmania is considered a testbed for the national rollout of high-speed broadband, with Senator Conroy having said it would provide “valuable learnings” for the wider mainland build. The Coalition has not put a deadline on the Tasmanian project. But the office of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the rollout had started again at the end of last year after being “completely stalled” under Labor.

The NBN Co said it now had commitments to “fibre” as many Tasmanian premises this year as had been passed in the previous five years — but the rollout would not be achieved “by continuing to set heroic targets”.

In a submission obtained by The Weekend Australian, ­TASICT says that without “urgent political intervention, the project will continue to fail Tasmania” and laments that the project has been used a “political tool” by all major parties.

“The first-mover NBN advantage once trumpeted as an economic saviour for Tasmania, is gone,” the submission says.

The submission was written by the group’s executive officer, Dean Winter, who ran as an ALP candidate for the 2012 Tasmanian upper house seat of Hobart.

It also warns that Tasmanians “now wonder if they will ever get the NBN”.

“Business has lost enthusiasm for the project ...

“Tasmania, already dealing with an inadequate communications infrastructure, faces lengthy delays to ever see the project completed.”

The submission says the rollout is still not back on track, but backs Mr Turnbull’s move to trial the use of overhead cables on Aurora’s power poles as ­potentially faster and cheaper. and a way to have more direct fibre connections. It also says telephone and internet service providers — who sell the NBN to homes — are frustrated by “the lack of certainty about which technology will be used, the slow pace of the rollout and the failing process for connecting new customers to the network”.

Under the rollout, the NBN is connected to a utility box on the outside of a home or business. People who want to switch their phone and internet to the NBN contact a retail service provider, who makes an appointment for an NBN installer to put in equipment.

But the submission says the connection process in Tasmania has been “farcical”.

Customers were being hit with long wait times between ordering and connecting to the NBN and there were estimates up to 50 per cent of appointments with customers are being missed by NBN contractors.

“There is anecdotal evidence that some of these appointments are being ignored because ­contractors arrive at the appointment, identify a difficult or time-consuming job and make an assessment it is not worth the rate being offered,” the submission says.

Last year an asbestos shutdown delayed the project. Also, there were disputes between Visionstream — lead contractor on the island — and subcontractors over pay. While there were 20,065 premises passed by the NBN by June 1, 2013, the rollout all but came to a complete halt over the following months.

By December 2, there were 32,271 passed. For the week to April 21, there were 36,117 brownfields passed. In December, ­Visionstream said it was accelerating its rollout of fibre to more than 200,000 premises.

The TasICT submission says it was clear by June last year there were significant “issues” in Tasmania, but these “were never dealt with by the government of the day”.

“In fact, they were completely ignored and the rollout had almost stopped by September 2013. It was hoped these issues would be addressed by a new government and the rollout could get back on track. To date, this has not happened.”

Mr Turnbull’s spokesman said since the rollout started again at the end of last year, more than 4000 extra premises have been passed in brownfields areas. Visionstream had been ­issued with build contract instructions for 17,000 premises, while advanced planning was under way in areas with a further 19,000.

“With premises already passed that brings the number of homes and businesses committed to NBN fibre by the end of the year to about a third of premises in the state,” Mr Turnbull’s spokesman said.

NBN Co spokesman Andrew Sholl said construction standards were being improved so homes were connected at the same time that fibre was rolled down the street and existing infrastructure was being incorporated into the network.

Before the federal election, TasICT lobbied for Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises model to stay on the island, rather than the ­Coalition’s model that uses Telstra’s copper for the final few hundred metres to homes.

TasICT has made its comments in a submission to a private bill proposed by Tasmanian ALP Senator Anne Urquhart that would force the NBN Co to provide only FTTP to at least 200,000 premises on the island. The group opposes the bill.

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