The company tasked with rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has blamed a construction worker shortage for delaying the construction of the fibre network by up to 150,000 premises.
NBN Co said that instead of passing 341,000 premises — 286,000 brownfields premises and 55,000 greenfields premises — with fibre by the end of June this year, NBN Co will only pass between 190,000 and 220,000 overall.
This is broken down to between 155,000 and 175,000 brownfields and between 35,000 and 45,000 greenfields premises.
It had been widely expected that NBN Co would revise down its June forecast. Following ongoing issues with Syntheo, figures published by NBN retailer Devoted NBN revealed that NBN Co had only passed just over 1,400 brownfields premises in the first 10 weeks of this year.
NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley blamed the delays on the construction partners not recruiting "boots on the ground" as quickly as required.
"Construction partners have not be mobilising boots on the ground at a fast enough rate to meet their own forecasts," he said.
"These construction problems are a short-term issue, and will not affect the long-term delivery of the NBN or the cost of the project. I want to be very clear NBN is taking accountability. As the CEO, I am committed to recovering from the delay."
Quigley said that NBN Co was ultimately responsible for the three-month delay in the project, and that the company will take action to ensure the rollout gets back on track. The measures include taking control of the Northern Territory rollout from Syntheo; 80 new roving fibre splicers, who will travel across the country to work in areas where there have been delays; and construction companies hiring more workers sooner than originally planned in order to ramp up the construction much quicker.
Quigley said that the move into the NT would only be a temporary measure, and NBN Co would not seek to construct the entire network on its own.
"You shouldn't read into this that NBN Co is becoming a construction company."
Quigley denied that the announcement was scheduled at the same time as the federal government leadership turmoil in order to minimise damage for the company. He said NBN Co's board met this morning, and had to agree to the revised forecast in advance of it going public.
He said that as the NBN is in an early stage of its rollout, the delays would not have any meaningful impact on the revenues for the company, or the date of completion of the NBN in 2021.
"We're not even changing the peak rate. All we're doing is holding that rate longer," he said.
Too much information?
The company denied claims that it was holding information from the public that it was offering retail service providers such as Devoted NBN.
"Claims we're being secretive and not providing information about [the rollout] are just nonsense," Quigley said.
After the conference call with journalists, Quigley told ZDNet that all the information was available through NBN Co's website but it was just raw data.
"The information we make available to retail service providers is available to anyone on our website. It is in a huge amount of detail," he said. "You need to spend quite some time analysing it if you are trying to draw conclusions from it, which is why we are drawing quarterly summaries."
He said that NBN Co was torn between providing more contextualised information that would take up more of the company's time, or having the raw data misinterpreted.
"The issue we've got, is we're providing so much information and people are just using it and making mistakes," he said.
"We're going to have to decide whether we're just providing so much information that it is simply confusing people."
Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull this afternoon said that NBN Co was attempting to avoid scrutiny in announcing the writedown when it did, and said that NBN Co should have its forecasts submitted for independent analysis.