NBN Co must provide clearer information about the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the tenders associated with it, according to the latest parliamentary report.
In the third report of the joint parliamentary committee overseeing the NBN roll-out, committee chair Rob Oakeshott criticised NBN Co for shifting the goal posts for targets and assumptions in the NBN corporate plan. Since the first corporate plan was released in 2010, NBN Co has fallen behind its targets for premises passed. It blamed a number of factors, including the stalled negotiations for the $11 billion Telstra deal, extending the points of interconnect from 14 to 121 and NBN Co becoming the fibre provider of last resort for greenfield sites.
NBN Co has since revised its corporate plan, which was submitted to government at the end of May, but has not yet been made public. In the report tabled in parliament yesterday, Oakeshott questioned how any assumptions would be reliable in the new corporate plan if the NBN was delayed for any reason. He said that this, in turn, would make NBN Co's website, which includes information about the three-year roll-out plans for the network, unreliable.
"As the 12-month and three year schedules published on the NBN Co website are subject to change, according to the pace of design, construction and completion of the NBN, the associated targets will undoubtedly be in a state of constant flux," he said. "This means that the NBN roll-out cannot possibly be measured in terms of progress against specific targets over an acceptable timeframe, which can then be compared between periods or years."
Oakeshott said that NBN Co's use of the term "work under way", to describe how many premises where network design or construction is underway, is not a useful measurement.
"The committee finds this approach by the NBN Co disappointing and contrary to the principles of transparency and accountability required of public agencies, especially one responsible for the largest public infrastructure project ever funded by an Australian Government," he said.
The committee recommended that information about the NBN roll-out and forecasted construction and activation dates be consolidated onto the interactive NBN roll-out map on NBN Co's website, also including additional information such as:
When work will start in an area
The percentage of an area where work has been completed
An exact date when work will be completed in an area
Information about how to connect to the NBN.
The committee was also critical of the incomplete information on NBN Co's tender portal. As of May 2012, a total of $9 billion worth of contracts had been awarded, but information about which companies had won tenders and the value of those tenders was not always disclosed on the portal.
"This website appears to be so infrequently updated that its information is no longer accurate. This is true of both the 'current' tenders and those tenders that have been formally awarded. As at 22 May 2012, the NBN Co website was advertising a 'current' tender that had a closing date of 30 January 2012," the report stated.
The committee said that the registry should be updated to include which company won which tenders, how long the contracts will run for, the value of those contracts and which Australian companies were picked up in contracts.
Among the total 15 recommendations made in the report, the committee also urged NBN Co to finalise its policy for pricing extensions to the NBN fibre roll-out past the 93 per cent of premises currently covered. NBN Co has been trialling expanding the fibre to places that would have otherwise been served by fixed-wireless or satellite, for home owners or councils that would be willing to pay the additional cost NBN Co would incur.
The committee recommended that once this policy is finalised, NBN Co should provide information to local government associations from areas covered by fixed-wireless or satellite, so that they are aware that fibre is an option for them.
NBN Co should also get started on plans to raise private funding for the NBN roll-out, the report stated. The government has stated that the NBN is expected to cost $35.9 billion in total to construct over ten years, but approximately 33 per cent, or $13.4 billion of this, was projected to be raised by investment from the private sector, commencing from 2015.
The committee stated that it was time to get started on debt-financing considerations.
"The committee concludes that, given the significance of debt financing arrangements to its future funding mix, NBN Co should progress consideration of this matter as a priority," the report stated. "Further, any revisions to NBN Co's roll-out targets will need to be closely monitored, as any delays in this regard may push back projected timeframes for debt financing arrangements and private equity engagement."
The committee has commenced its fourth review of the NBN roll-out, and tonight will hold a public hearing with the Communications, Electrical, and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on the $100 million set aside by NBN Co to re-train Telstra workers displaced by the decommissioning of the copper access network.