NBN expert panel member rejects Scales report

The ACCC did not overly influence the expert panel's recommendation to the Labor government that the NBN should be fibre to the premises, according to panel member Rod Tucker.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A report by former Telstra corporate affairs head Bill Scales slamming the NBN expert panel for relying on Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) advice for fibre to the premises (FttP) has been rejected by panel member Professor Rod Tucker.

The report, tabled in parliament earlier this month, examined the public policy process between April 2008 when the former Labor government issued a request for proposals for the NBN up to May 2010 when the NBN implementation study was released, and said that NBN planning was "rushed, chaotic, and inadequate" in just 11 weeks from the expert panel's report and the announcement of the NBN FttP project in April 2009.

Scales was, in particular, critical of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) "overstepping its authority" in telling the panel of experts that fibre to the node "was not a stepping stone" to fibre to the premises.

He said that the ACCC's evidence to the committee was never fully tested by the committee, and ultimately resulted in the panel advising the government to go to full FttP in 2009.

But in an opinion piece for The Conversation today, Tucker rejects the findings of the report, stating Scales never had access to some of the confidential deliberations of the expert panel, and Scales ignored much of the evidence given to him by Tucker in the process of making the report.

"Simply put the panel did not rely heavily on the ACCC advice," he said.

"A fundamental flaw with the audit process was that Scales, by his own admission, did not have access to key information, with limited access to documents associated with the panel of experts' activities.

"Members of the panel, constrained by strict confidentiality rules, were also unable to share any further information with Scales about the details of panel discussions and deliberations. Without divulging any details, I was able to explain the situation regarding the ACCC to Bill Scales when he interviewed me for his report, but it seems he did not put much weight on my comments."

He said Analysys Mason commentary that the FttP network build would cost five times that of the FttN relied on NBN Co owning the copper network it was going to build. He warned that with Telstra getting AU$11 billion out of NBN Co under either model, this reduced the price difference between FttN and FttP substantially.

Telstra announced last week that a new framework for a deal with NBN Co had been developed that would likely see the company hand over ownership of its copper and HFC networks to NBN Co as the new network is rolled out, at no additional cost to NBN Co.

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