NBN Co's figure fudging is a disservice

NBN Co's figure fudging is a disservice

Summary: NBN Co's continual misrepresentation of its own targets does nothing but give its opponents ammo in the ongoing NBN war.


NBN Co's announcement yesterday that it had reached the targets for premises passed by fibre by the end of June should have been a high point for the company. Instead, it has found itself defending its methodology after again seemingly redefining its own measurements and targets.

NBN Co scraped through its revised target released in March, reaching 163,500 brownfields premises and 44,000 greenfields premises with fibre as of June 30. The goal had been 155,000 to 175,000 brownfields premises, and between 35,000 and 45,000 greenfields.

This means that there is now a total of 207,500 premises that should be able connect to the NBN fibre — except that is not really the case.

NBN Co has been counting premises in that total that cannot yet connect to the NBN. This includes multi-dwelling units (MDUs) that don't yet have the fibre in their building, as well as office blocks and other similar premises. It's been estimated that as many as 55,000 premises included in NBN Co's total can't actually connect to the NBN yet.

NBN Co's defence is that it had always counted those premises in the total, and that this is an internationally recognised standard. The Fibre to the Home Council doesn't seem to agree with that definition, stating on its website that "homes passed" is the potential number of premises that the operator has the capability to connect in a service area, and does not include premises that cannot be connected without "further installation of substantial cable plant, such as feeder and distribution cables, to reach the area in which a potential new subscriber is located".

NBN Co's own corporate plan also seems to disagree with that definition. On page 36, NBN Co states that a premises is deemed passed when "the shared network and service elements are installed, accepted, commissioned, and ready for service, which then enabled an end user to order and purchase a broadband service from their choice of retail service provider".

At the very least, NBN Co should reveal the total number of premises that could today order a service on the NBN and get connected.

The company also seems to be misleading the public over its target for premises able to get fixed-wireless services by the end of June. The original target was 70,000, but NBN Co missed this by a long shot, only getting 27,300 at the end of June.

When asked about this yesterday, NBN Co told ZDNet that it revised the figure down to 37,000 in March, when it also revised down the fibre figure. This, however, did not appear in the press release, and no journalists seem to have been informed of the writedown.

NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley was specifically asked four times by Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham in a Budget Estimates hearing at the end of May whether NBN Co would reach 70,000 premises with the fixed-wireless network, and Quigley did not seek to correct the figure.

"So you do not expect to make 70,000, but you do not have a revised target?" Birmingham asked.

"We do not know. Until we have finished the counting — in fact, this is one of the things I guess we have learned in this, senator," Quigley said.

"We probably should just say that some of the things are very difficult to predict. This is the plan of what we going to do. I think we are putting up, largely, the number of towers that we intended to put up in this period. The question is: How many premises can you end up covering?"

There is a good chance that these figures will be some of the very last rollout stats we are given prior to the federal election. NBN Co should have known that the results would have been keenly analysed by the industry, journalists, and the public. By attempting to mask the legitimate and often unavoidable difficulties that NBN Co is having with constructing a network of this size, the company is making it look like it has something to hide.

That is arguably a disservice to the government, the public, and those die-hard supporters of the NBN. Opponents of the current project were going to criticise the figures regardless of what the result actually was, but how can the public have trust that NBN Co is doing the job the government has tasked it to if the company continually insists on massaging the numbers to look better than they actually are?

If we're to have confidence in NBN Co's rollout metrics going forward, the company should release the exact definitions of the terms it uses, and then stick to them.

Topic: NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Good idea - an important metric

    What the public cares about is can they get service yet.

    Well it's what I care about anyway so I assume other people want the same.

    Not that other metrics aren't relevant also as long as they are accurate and understandable.
    • "What the public cares about is can they get service yet."

      I agree. Seems if you cannot get a fibre service then it is a great concern. Some may not understand the need for everyone to have access to the fast speeds achievable on fibre even sooner but I do. Perhaps the NBN FttP project should have started in 2003 then there wouldn't be complaints about rollout delays in 2013 since it would be finished;-)
      Hubert Cumberdale
  • Real metrics

    There are two metrics that are important.

    1. Number of currently signed up users
    2. Number of distinct buildings that can be connected immediately.

    Everything else is just spin. Stuff like "Number of premises who could potentially connect in the next 12 months, depending on the government" or "Number of houses and units who we think might have fibre running somewhere in their street at some stage in the next financial year, or two" are just as relevant as some of these vague numbers.
    Andy Grace
  • GenY Josh's Disservice

    Josh you seem to have left out a major fact in your story which is based around NBN's failure to accurately report on premises which are ready to be connected to the NBN.

    First up:
    I completely understand the pressure NBN is feeling regarding the rollout when I consider the absolute lies and 1/2 truths currently being propagated by the Liberal party and mainstream media.
    This does not excuse the NBN providing skewed numbers BUT the fact you missed in your article is that there are a number of obstacles completely outside of NBN’s control STOPPING them changing a premise from passed to ready.
    You should have made comment regarding the “frustrated” premises which NBN is NOT ALLOWED to connect due to landlords or body corporates refusing access despite the desire of the tenant to connect.

    I feel that without this fact within your story you’re are deliberately biasing or sensationalizing your story. From current experience you seem to do that a lot.
    • Erm

      I mentioned that there are legitimate and unavoidable difficulties with rolling out a network of this size. But have fun with that.
      Josh Taylor
      • Let me use the same technique

        Josh for an article this long with the crucial element being the reporting of houses "connected" verses "passed" I would expect this fact to be covered in details as opposed to pushed in to a catch all statement as the one above.

        So let me have fun with this: let’s say I’m doing an article on kitchen hygiene. I spend the entire article deploring the state of a restaurants kitchen and then part way through make the comment “But there are some things which are unavoidable”, sounds nice fuzzy and doesn’t detract from the feel of the article. If I had of written “the owners of the kitchen were tied up and the place was ransacked by an intruder” it would have detracted from my intended message so I leave it out……….. come on Josh, seriously.
      • Also

        Arrogance doesnt really help anyone
        • apt

          You're being quite condescending, so the response was entirely what you were worth.

          Either way NBN Co is fudging the figures. There are legitimate reasons why it's not going as fast as they would like but they were not up front about it, instead they massage the numbers. That's bad for a government company.
          Josh Taylor
        • .

          In the same day as you accused me of being anti NBN I was told I was writing pro NBN propaganda by someone else, so forgive me if I don't buy this notion that I'm anti-NBN.

          I'm pro-transparency and if there's one thing you'll have noticed following what I write it is that NBN Co isn't all that transparent. They've blocked at least 3 FOI request from myself alone.
          Josh Taylor
          • what reason did they state?

            The old "Commercial in confidence" chestnut?
    • Yettie79's confusion

      "You should have made comment regarding the “frustrated” premises which NBN is NOT ALLOWED to connect due to landlords or body corporates refusing access despite the desire of the tenant to connect."

      Perhaps NBN co should have been the ones to make those comments, as they go some way to explaining why they are so far behind with their targets.
      But hang on, why would they do that? After all, according to them, they aren't behind with their targets are they.
      • Clarification

        As stated in my intial post, I agree with you, the NBN should not play these standard project management reporting games. I've been an IT PM for quite some time and these games do annoy me.

        My point is primarily around Josh's overall message which utilises deceit via omission to push his articles message accross.

        Why Josh seems to have a negative attitude to the NBN (not just this article but a number I've stumbled upon) is beyond me considering his background.
        • NBNCo corp plan should have taken these

          known issues into account when they produced their targets.

          They were either ignorant of them (my money for I; 1.3m by now) or deliberately ignored them (certainly for II; 350k).

          From the beginning many (including me) have criticised the project for the risk to taxpayers and questioning their competency to deliver. Both risks were obvious, the fanboys screamed abuse.

          Well its happened; stop apologising or blaming others. The Emporer has no cloths. Billions of dollars and years wasted.

          PS thanks Josh for the "TransACT numbers not included" clarification.
          Richard Flude
          • Incorrect


            Your comment "Billions of dollars and years wasted." is typical of those who cant see the wood for the trees. Just because a multi billion dollar nationwide project is running behind,... oh hang on really? their running behind? Oh they must be the only one who ever does this, oops no. It seems rather common, back to you... the sky is falling! the sky is falling! billions wasted!


            I have noticed of late your transparency is a little opaque my friend. In this article you lampoon them for not being accurate yet they have always said premises passed and 'this has not changed. What the public is frustrated by is this is not good enough for them. Well guys, hate to break it to you, and Josh knows this well enough. They are a wholesale provider and not a retail provider. It is not their job to report on the retail side connected status. They provide the backbone then the retail wind up there bits and pieces until they are open for business and start connecting the users.

            NBN should pull it back, state the case and tell the lot of you to go ask your provider.
          • You clearly don't understand the latest disclosure

            The 55k "service status 0" "premises passed" not only can't order from any retailer, they may not be able to do so for up to 18mths. Including these is ridiculous.

            They're not just running behind, their revised targets are less than 15% of the original. The expenditure divided by number of active connections is extreme, contract worth hundreds of billions (eg. Fujitsu) actually connected not a single house.

            There's no way their corp plan is in anyway defensible. These are 't delays, there signals the project is out of control.

            Oh and that the method hasn't changed doesn't surprise with the revolting Conroy. We should be glad they've finally come clean. However it doesn't excuse they have always been using the wrong metric, the project actually further behind (using their own definition) than previously thought.

            Josh it would be worth finding out why this metric was disclosed in this media release. Either it was an accidental discovery (more incompetence) or an deliberate attempt to mislead corrected by executives or the new minister.
            Richard Flude
          • Contract worth hundreds of billions should be millions, 500 not zero

            I wrote back Oct 2012:

            "The release NBNCo - Fujitsu contract details expose the "value for money" performance. AUD100 million to connect just 500 greenfield premises when forecasted 132,000 gives a valuable insight into NBNCo's performance."

            Can't say we didn't have plenty of warning signals.
            Richard Flude
          • Save me

            The 55k premises passed still stands. You have been told before and you will be told again. NBNCo have no control on retail preparation for NBN connections.

            There corporate plan is only slightly delayed. It's only the deluded who have moved the goal posts.
          • Not retail

            The wholesale connection doesn't exist.

            The 55k don't stand by their own definition.

            The corp plans are in tatters. The goals were set by NBNCo; now one but them has moved them (always downwards).
            Richard Flude
          • Keep it together

            TRUTH. NBNCo, in MY opinion, should only be counting premises able to connect to a retail provider RIGHT NOW. The current metric is wrong. Plain and simple.

            On anything else Fluddie has been spruiking:

            Your fiction and figures as always are all over the place and you still do not seem to grasp the importance of this project. You, along with Malcolm want to get the sledgehammer out and hobble Australia's technological progress.

            I still haven't figured out why unfortunately you cannot see this HAD to happen thanks to the history of the Telecom/Telstra privatization and the state of the active copper/network backbone since mid eighties.

            We cannot allow the status quo - it's not working. The world is progressing and if you have your way, companies may move offshore to stay competitive.

            As I've said before in my posts, I'm 20 minutes out of Perth, and all 4 suburbs around and mine included are on old copper, and get barely any internet. In fact one of my customers just off one of the roads has had to install a $500+ Yagi antenna and pay ridiculous 3G fees to Telstra to get ANY broadband and stay competitive. This example is a chicken farmer folks, the same one who put food on your table. Knock on effect is to raise prices of chicken or fold. Get the chicken from interstate perhaps?

            Get over your "I'm alright thanks jack" attitude, and understand really what this is doing to competition and prices for goods and services. It all knocks on.

            I personally don't care if the bill goes to $50b (which I know you'll jump on but you've never provided ANY hard evidence the investment will go up from about $40b).

            This is the infrastructure we NEED. It's not a WANT. And it's the fault of people spruiking old ideologies like yourself. You're a relic.
          • Ramrunner

            I understand as well as anyone the importance of Internet infrastructure; and the methods of delivery.

            I also know the record of such projects. I was abused from the beginning pointing out the risks; now happening.

            Younger not care the project cost $10b more, delayed beyond 10 years or the quality of the install is poor; but some of us do.

            The project has failed to meet any of its corp plan targets; that is how we know it is going to cost more. Thanks to their spin and lack of transparency we don't know by how much.

            The project is out of control; and not without precident from this govt in particular. The damage to private telecom investment has been devastating and a large factor why retail offerings continue to be poor. Get govt out of the market (except where non-functioning competition) and we'd be the richer for it. Continuing the status quo is ridiculous.
            Richard Flude