NBN is a policy vacuum: iiNet

iiNet has slammed both Labor and the Coalition over their handling of the National Broadband Network (NBN) debate.

Labor and the Coalition have both been guilty of focusing on the download speeds of the National Broadband Network (NBN), leading to a policy vacuum for the project, according to Australia's third-largest ISP iiNet.

iiNet, which has over 25,000 customers connected to the NBN across Australia, made the claim in a submission (PDF) to the NBN Senate committee prior to an appearance before the committee today.

iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby told the committee that the former Labor and current Coalition government have "struggled to communicate concrete reasons for an investment in the NBN", and debate has been too focused on download speeds for watching movies.

"No 'national objectives' are presented as the drivers for the construction of the NBN as they might be for any other infrastructure project," he said.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recently announced panel of experts appointed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis , which is due to the government by June, was also criticised for focusing on costs over benefits.

Dalby said iiNet believes that debate on the NBN should focus on national objectives such as improving productivity, creating jobs, regional development, industry development, and improved competition.

"iiNet does not believe that downloading songs faster or being able to connect multiple televisions should be drivers of national infrastructure projects," he said.

He pointed to iiNet's growing business customer base and the need for faster upload speeds for those businesses to survive, and said that a focus on download speeds has "absolutely failed the Australian community".

While iiNet's comments were largely focused on the way the political parties had handled the NBN policy, NBN Co itself was also accused of having a "take it or leave it" attitude to its retail customers, and Dalby said that the rigid retail products NBN Co offered to ISPs such as iiNet made it difficult for the Perth-based telco to respond to customer demands on the types of products they would like to take up.

"By NBN Co insisting on controlling the design of retail products, retail service providers are unable to respond to customer demands or evolve to meet changing needs. The slow pace of NBN Co's product development is related to its remoteness from the end user, and is unlikely to improve over time," he said.

iiNet is currently holding out on signing a wholesale broadband agreement with NBN Co, despite other telcos including Telstra and Optus already signing on. Dalby told ZDNet that iiNet is concerned that it would be liable to pay customer service guarantee fines in places where NBN Co is at fault.

Dalby also slammed the Coalition's proposed "multi-technology model" for the NBN that would include a mix of fibre to the premises, fibre to the node, and hybrid fibre-coaxial services. He said that the added complexity would require retailers to invest in more business-to-business interfaces at more points of interconnect. This cost would be passed onto consumers.

At today's hearing in Perth, the committee also heard from Communications Union West Australian branch president John McDonnell, who called on Telstra to release its Customer Network Improvement (CNI) database to the public, which he said would detail "down to a GPS location" exactly where the faulty joints or faulty lengths of cable exist in the Telstra copper network.

The exact state of the copper network, which would be used in part for a fibre-to-the-node network, is still up for debate. Anecdotal evidence from members of the union has suggested that the network is an "absolute disgrace" , while Telstra and NBN Co have claimed that the network is in a "good condition".