Turning Conroy's NBN legacy to dust

Stephen Conroy won’t have to worry about NBN Co staffers speaking ill of him behind his back for much longer. The latest NBN audit will have enough ammunition to dismantle his NBN legacy root and branch.

NBN Co boss Ziggy Switkowski probably isn’t the biggest fan of the regular Senate Committee grilling and he must surely be tiring of rehashing the same narrative ad infinitum.

As it turns out, the man leading the committee, former Communications minister Stephen Conroy, had a fresh tune for Switkowski at the latest hearing.

A new tune from Conroy

Senator Conroy initiated the proceedings by taking Switkowski to task over leaks within NBN Co ranks, with some NBN Co staffers apparently  more than willing to dish the dirt on his performance as the communications minister.

He took particular umbrage to the aspersions cast in a Daily Telegraph article last month that blamed Conroy for changing the eligibility criteria of subscriptions on the interim satellite service, citing unnamed NBN Co sources.

The senator is clearly unhappy about the unprofessional manner of NBN Co staff but one suspects that invectives hurled during off-the-record gabfests will pale into insignificance once the latest audit on the inception of the NBN is done and dusted.

The audit, to be carried out by former Telstra director Bill Scales, will look into the policy processes leading up to the implementation of the NBN and the company which is overseeing its construction, NBN Co.

The Coalition flagged the audit when it was in opposition, but just what benefit it will deliver is still open to conjecture. Is this just another attempt by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to validate the Coalition’s position on the NBN? Or is it an exercise in vilification as the audit attempts to lay bare Labor’s incompetency?

One suspects it’s a bit of both and, leaving motivations aside for a minute, the end result seems predetermined.

Senator Conroy won’t have to worry about NBN Co staffers speaking ill of him behind his back for too much longer -- in four months’ time the audit will no doubt have enough ammunition to dismantle Conroy’s NBN legacy, root and branch.

TPG fibre bad for NBN Co’s health

The other big consideration in yesterday’s hearing was the looming threat of infrastructure competition in servicing multi-dwelling units (MDUs) and its implications for NBN Co.

Switkowski again reiterated his views on the potential ill-effects of TPG Telecom’s fibre-to-the-basement initiative on NBN Co’s health, highlighting an uncomfortable, albeit unsurprising, truth about the state of the project.

Infrastructure competition in cherry-picked, high value areas will take a bit out of NBN Co’s bottom line. TPG Telecom might not be able to make a damaging dent on its own but NBN Co won't appreciate the prospect of Telstra following in TPG’s footsteps.

TPG’s ambition for now remains unfulfilled -- a veritable limbo -- while the legality of its aspirations is reviewed. The cost benefit analysis, due to drop in May, will presumably provide the necessary guidance.  

NBN Co has started FTTB trails of its own, but how quickly they are able to be deployed remains to be seen. If and when TPG gets the final green light, it’s expected to beat everyone to the race -- though at this point nothing is guaranteed.

Telstra would much rather the provisions that allow TPG to build its network be taken off the table, as would NBN Co. Keeping the loophole TPG is exploiting intact looks certain to complicate the discussion with Telstra and a race to connect apartments could leave NBN Co on shaky ground.