NBN joint committee extends investigation to business case, rural rollout

The joint standing committee is now accepting submissions on NBN's long-term business case and the capacity and reliability of its regional and rural rollout across fixed-wireless and satellite.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

After completing its initial report last year, the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network is now holding inquiries into NBN's business case as well as its rollout in regional and rural Australia.

As spotted by Computerworld, the committee is accepting submissions on both inquiries until March 29.

The business case inquiry is looking into NBN's long-term financial outlook, including forecasts on revenue; predictions out to 2040; "competitive risks" in the market; whether alternative pricing models will impact NBN's economics; and the possible future sale of NBN.

The rural and regional rollout inquiry, meanwhile, is investigating the "capacity and reliability" of the fixed-wireless, fixed-line, and satellite networks.

This includes the planning, mapping, and eligibility requirements for each network technology; service reliability and adequacy across fixed-wireless, fixed-line, and satellite; any future capacity issues; and broadband services provision by alternative fixed-wireless, fixed-line, and satellite providers.

The joint standing committee had in September recommended that NBN connect as many premises with its fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) and fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) networks as possible, with its final report making 23 recommendations in total.

"The committee recommends that the Australian government direct and enable NBN to complete as much as possible of the remaining fixed-line network using FttC at a minimum (or FttP), and require NBN to produce a costed plan and timetable under which that would be achieved," it said.

Following its series of hearings across Australia, the committee had also recommended that the government direct NBN to establish a regional support group for its rollout following concerns from Australia's states and territories that the "technically inferior" satellite service and "lower-grade" NBN services should be a "last resort" because they are a form of geographical-based discrimination.

Under NBN's current Corporate Plan, 1.9 million premises will be served by FttP and 1 million by FttC, while 4.6 million will have fibre to the node (FttN) or fibre to the basement (FttB), 3.1 million will have hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), and 1 million will have satellite or fixed-wireless.

In responding to the report earlier this year, however, the government 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 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".

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.

On the basis that it is already working to do so, the government supported the recommendation that it commission an independent audit of NBN's long-term finances and business case.

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; and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) speed guidelines.

The ACCC is meanwhile conducting its own NBN inquiry, looking into the appropriateness of the NBN wholesale service standard levels.

The consumer watchdog said it will be determining whether regulation of wholesale service standards, including resolutions for consumers when wholesale standards are not reached, is necessary in order to improve NBN customer experience.

"We are very concerned about the high number of complaints from consumers around poor customer experiences, particularly in relation to customers connecting to NBN services and having faults repaired," ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in November.

"Many of these complaints relate to matters set out in wholesale service level standards. We will examine whether the service levels that are currently in place are appropriate and effective."

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