NBN fibre increase: Government says no

The government has not supported many recommendations by the joint standing committee on the NBN, including to increase fibre to the premises and fibre to the curb out to a greater portion of the population.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Expressing overall disappointment in a report on the National Broadband Network (NBN) by a joint standing committee, the Australian government has rebuffed calls to use more fibre in its rollout.

"The government is disappointed that after considering 191 submissions, holding 15 public hearings, receiving testimony from 179 witnesses, and undertaking three site visits, the committee's majority report and recommendations indicates a failure to understand the fundamentals of the NBN," the government's response [PDF] to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network's report said.

"The prominence given in the majority report of the committee to the stories of dissatisfied consumers distorts the perception of the success of the NBN."

The government did not support the committee's first recommendation of using fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) technology at a minimum for the NBN, saying it "remains committed to the multi-technology mix" due to the cost and time benefits.

"The government considers that NBN has the expertise to make decisions about how best to roll out the NBN, and there is value in allowing the experts to use their discretion to choose the most appropriate technology," the government said.

"In fact, it is this flexibility ... that has meant NBN has been able to adjust its approach and roll out FttC to 1 million premises, and why it has also signalled that it will continue to use fibre to the premises (FttP) where it is the most appropriate and viable technology option."

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland called this response "incredibly disappointing", and accused the government of rejecting "the middle ground".

"The government has arrogantly dismissed the pragmatic pathway recommended by the NBN Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee to deliver more fibre and less copper," she added.

The government similarly did not support the recommendations that a regional and remote reference group be established for NBN to consult on Sky Muster satellite changes, saying the recommendation was "based on the incorrect assumption by the committee that NBN does not consult with regional and remote Australians".

It also did not support the recommendation that NBN develop and implement a framework ensuring best-practice installation similar to Chorus NZ's model, citing the "significant differences" in networks and technologies being used in Australia and New Zealand.

"With different technologies being deployed here in Australia, and on a vastly different scale and timeframe, comparisons between the two rollouts are of limited value," the government argued.

Another recommendation rejected by the government was to require NBN to explain why some premises had been changed from fixed-wireless to satellite; and to set a benchmark for Sky Muster data allowances with reference to data use on fixed-line networks.

It also rejected the recommendation to develop small business products, saying NBN already provides products over which retail service providers (RSPs) tailor their services for small businesses; and rejected calls for NBN to provide advice to the committee on its processes on engaging, training, coordination, and dispute resolution with subcontractors.

"NBN already has an accreditation process that assists it to verify that workers have the right skills and competencies to carry out work on the NBN," the government argued.

"NBN is aware that there are disputes between contractors and their subcontractors; however, it cannot act as the adjudicator in these disputes, nor interfere with contractual relations. It is the responsibility of the parties to manage these disputes."

The government supported the recommendation that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) be empowered to compel parties to a complaint to cooperate on finding a resolution within a set timeframe; but did not support the suggestion that the government direct NBN to identify timeframes and escalation processes for consumer complaints.

"NBN is a wholesale-only provider and encourages consumers to seek to resolve issues directly with their access seeker or telecommunications RSP," the government said, while supporting the recommendations that NBN publish monthly information on net promoter scores by technology type and state, network and service fault restoration, and connection performance data.

On the basis that it has already completed them or is working to do so, the government then supported the recommendations that it overhaul the regulation of broadband wholesale services; ensure that digital inclusion is measured and reported; update the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code; commission an independent audit of NBN's long-term finances and business case; ensure via regulation that end users have information about the maximum speeds their premises is capable of; provide fixed-wireless towers for access by mobile telcos; ask NBN to provide the capacity for business and residential Sky Muster plans in a single premises; and have the ACMA introduce an updated statutory determination requiring RSPs to notify customers of critical service issues.

It additionally supported the recommendation that NBN prioritise premises with no access to the internet, saying it has issued NBN with a statement of expectations on prioritising underserved areas.

Overall, the government said it was "disappointed" that the committee "failed to acknowledge the many government and industry measures already under way". These included encouraging telcos to work together on improving customer issues; NBN's own focus on improving customer experience; the broadband monitoring program; the ACCC's inquiry into wholesale service standards; and the ACCC's speed guidelines.

It also pointed out that while TIO complaints have risen, they have remained at the same level as a proportion of premises connected, although it did point out its measures to repair this, such as the consumer experience guidelines now being implemented, including the ACMA's investigation into how modems may be affecting customer experience.

The government also pointed out the ACCC's enforcement of Australian Consumer Law, including against Telstra, Optus, and TPG.

"The government trusts that the committee will give the industry and NBN the time it needs to make ongoing improvements, and that subsequent committee reports will give equal space to the NBN's success stories as it has given in its first report to the challenges that are inevitable," it said.

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