NBN Co left public in the dark over wireless forecast

NBN Co's board knew it would revise down the wireless network forecast for June months before it was announced, but kept that secret to itself.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co's board knew that it wasn't going to meet its June wireless target, but failed to disclose that fact to the Australian public, despite revising down its fibre rollout figures in March.

The Australian Financial Review today reported that NBN Co's board knew as early as March that NBN Co would not reach its original target for the number of premises passed by the fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) network portion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

The original goal set out in the corporate plan last year was for 70,000 premises to be in reach of the wireless network by the end of June, but instead, NBN Co fell short at 27,300 premises due to issues with premises location information and interference from tall trees in installing the new towers to be in line of sight with each premises.

When the revised figure was revealed in June, an NBN Co spokesperson told ZDNet that the figure had been revised down in March, but was not disclosed because the media had not asked about it at the time. This was despite the fact that CEO Mike Quigley was asked four times in a Budget Estimates hearing at the end of May about whether NBN Co was planning on writing down its forecast for the wireless network.

"So you do not expect to make 70,000, but you do not have a revised target?" Liberal Senator Simon 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?"

ZDNet's own Freedom of Information request revealed that no documents had been prepared by or for the NBN Co media relations team regarding the revision in the wireless forecast between December last year and June this year.

Last week, an NBN Co spokesperson was approached to clarify his knowledge on the wireless forecast, but did not respond.

It comes as major NBN Co construction contractor Thiess yesterday announced that as part of its merger with Silcar, 250 jobs would go. Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday said that Communications Minister Anthony Albanese's credibility is "now thoroughly shot through", with contractors unable to afford to keep staff working on the project.

Today, Albanese defended Thiess' decision, stating that it is a private company.

"Companies will make decisions about employment. I regret any time the private sector make a decision to reduce their workforce," he said.

"We're talking about 7,000 people currently employed to roll out the National Broadband Network, that will peak at around 18,000 people employed for the construction of the NBN."

Editorial standards