Turnbull's NBN smackdown

NBN CO's failure to connect new housing estates to the network further illustrates the weaknesses of the entire rollout process and the company's inability to stick to its own plan.

The National Broadband Network’s third progress report to Parliament confirms its dismal failure to deliver timely broadband and communications to Australians living in new housing estates.

The report reveals only 110 premises in new developments were actually connected to the NBN at the end of last year.

Yet NBN Co’s 2011-2013 Corporate Plan states that by June there will be 132,000 premises in such areas using the network.

The latest NBN progress report, which covers the six months from 1 July to 31 December 2011, underscores that NBN Co has again utterly failed to keep up with demand for connections in new or ‘greenfields’ areas.

When NBN Co reported on the rollout for the same six-month period of 2010, its submission stated that it was on track to connect up 40,000 premises in new estates[1]:

“Since 1 January 2011 NBN Co has received 1,804 development applications representing more than 146,608 premises. For this fiscal year we expect to pass approximately 65,000 lots and connect approximately 40,000 premises. These numbers are of course subject to actual demand.”

A year later, not only has the number of active applications for connections fallen 25 per cent, but NBN Co has connected only 0.3 per cent of the houses it was scheduled to connect by June 2011:

“As at 31 December 2011, NBN had received 2,956 applications from developers, with 1,988 active applications covering 109,988 lots. As at 31 December 2011, there were 110 premises receiving active services.”[2]

Before Senator Conroy upended the sector, greenfields communications infrastructure in Australia was a thriving market served by numerous competitive and efficient private players. Even his Department has acknowledged as much.

But Senator Conroy’s ill-considered decision to assign exclusive responsibility for rolling out infrastructure at greenfields sites with more than 100 lots to his taxpayer-funded Government-operated monopoly has led to lengthy delays for developers and immense frustration for owners moving into new residences.

It has also damaged most of the small and medium businesses which once competed to install infrastructure.

Ironically, NBN Co’s own projections suggest homes in new greenfields areas will account for about 2 million of the 12 million premises it forecasts the NBN fibre network will pass by 2021.

Parliamentarians on all sides of politics appreciate that the NBN Co’s persistent neglect of new housing estates has created immense difficulties for some residents and hugely overloaded alternative infrastructure such as wireless networks. Regrettably, requests for assistance from these residents are one of the fastest-growing issues in many suburban and regional electorates. Only NBN Co can solve the problem; there is no incentive for other carriers to fill the gap, since NBN Co will simply overbuild and trash their existing infrastructure once it finally does deploy its fibre in an estate.

Senator Conroy must demand that NBN Co urgently resolve this appalling failure of execution.

[1] NBN Co Submission to the Joint Committee on the NBN, available online here.
[2] Third Progress report, p.11