The government will consider revealing details about the costs and delays caused by NBN Co's negotiations with Telstra and Optus, but has not committed to full disclosure.
Yesterday, the government released its response to the first report by the joint parliamentary committee overseeing the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN). The government supported two recommendations that NBN Co provide six-monthly reports on the progress of the NBN roll-out and that the government work to ensure that its agencies are ready for the NBN, but only noted or supported in principle the final three recommendations.
The third recommendation of the report called for NBN Co to publish a detailed account of impacts on timing and cost of the NBN "as a result of the time taken and resources used to complete the Binding Definitive Agreements between NBN Co and Telstra and NBN Co and Optus, and the decision to increase the number of points of interconnect from 14 to 121".
The government noted this recommendation and said that NBN Co's second corporate plan due out this month is expected to take into account any costs and timing impacts that have come about as a result of the deals with the two telcos. But the government indicated that some information may still be withheld on a commercial sensitivity basis.
"Any decision to publish details of the impacts would need to be taken following finalisation of the ACCC consideration and take into account the extent to which the legitimate commercial interests of parties, including Telstra and Optus would be compromised by publication," the government said.
The full details of the $11 billion Telstra deal and the $800 million Optus deal may never be made available to the general public. A Freedom of Information request by rival Internode on details of the Telstra deal was rejected by NBN Co last year.
The fourth recommendation of the review called for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to publish a detailed statement on the productivity, jobs and competitive benefits of the NBN.
In response, the government provided OECD stats on Australia's ranking in broadband costs, as well as Cisco estimates that bandwidth demand will grow six-fold by 2015.
The fifth recommendation said NBN Co should make the time frames public for the roll-out in regional and remote areas and what impact the NBN roll-out will have on the availability for satellite services in regional and remote areas.
The government pointed to NBN Co's 12-month roll-out plan, and said there was no expected reduction in capacity in regional areas as a result of the NBN roll-out. "[B]ut rather an expectation of significant improvement of capacity. It is unlikely that current commercial services will be withdrawn in advance of the roll-out because demand for these services is expected to only increase as regional and rural Australians use of broadband technologies increases."
Committee chair Rob Oakeshott said in a statement accompanying the government's response that community engagement from NBN Co was more important than ever in 2012.
"As the NBN Co moves from rolling out the NBN in test sites to greater community roll-out in 2012, this public engagement is more important than ever."
The committee has since released a second report that the government has yet to respond to and will start on a third inquiry this year. The first hearing for the committee is scheduled to take place in Sydney on 16 April and will focus on the following key issues, according to Oakeshott:
- Roll-out of wireless and satellite services
- Performance reporting
- Regulatory matters
- National uniform pricing
- "E-readiness" of small and medium enterprises
- The potential for private equity to fund the NBN
- Telstra workforce issues under the retraining funding deed in the $11 billion Telstra deal.