NBN lands a further AU$1.2 billion of debt at 1%

Government-owned business states it ended up with the lowest coupon rate for an Australian corporate.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The company responsible for deploying, maintaining, and upgrading the National Broadband Network (NBN) announced on Tuesday it has returned to the debt markets, walking away with a further AU$1.2 billion of debt.

NBN said it had "capitalised on positive market conditions and low interest rates" with its five-year bonds, which will be paid back with 1% interest. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, annual inflation for the September quarter was sitting at 0.7%.

"A heavily over-subscribed order book drove considerable price tightening, resulting in the final offer price reducing by 15 basis points below the initial price guidance," NBN said.

"The final order book comprised 55 high-quality investors, with strong participation from asset managers with domestic accounts dominating overall demand and representation within the order book."

In May, NBN lined up a AU$6.1 billion line of credit from foreign and domestic banks as its first entry into private debt markets. That debt also has a five-year term, with part of being allocated towards funding NBN's AU$4.5 billion fibre-to-the-node upgrade scheme.

The company still has a AU$19.5 billion loan that is to be repaid to the federal government by 30 June 2024 through refinancing.

Also on Tuesday, the Australian government announced it was parting with AU$13.2 million to allow Telstra, Optus, and TPG to "extend" battery backup to 12 hours at 467 mobile tower sites.

"Telecommunications -- including mobile phone towers -- rely on power to operate. This investment will allow mobile phone towers to keep operating for at least 12 hours after the power goes out, making a real difference for communities during and after a natural disaster," Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said.

In May, a report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found only 3% of tower outages were due to fire damage from the nation's 2019-20 black summer of bushfires, with loss of power being blamed for 88% of outages.

For two-thirds of all outages, carriers had trouble reaching the site due to issues such as fallen trees, ACMA said.

"In most cases (88%), permanent restoration of an outage incident occurred when power to the site was restored. The carriers advised that site power was restored either automatically or once mains power was restored by the power company," the report said.

Later that month, the government announced it would spend AU$37.1 million to improve the resiliency of the nation's telco infrastructure in the wake of the fires.

Last month, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced it had coughed up AU$320,000 for Diffuse Energy to trial the use of small wind turbines to power off-grid telecommunications towers.

Overall, the project from the Newcastle-based company will cost AU$922,000 and be conducted at 10 towers. The turbines from Diffuse are capable of generating 500 watts, and could have the potential to replace diesel generators used currently by telco providers in Australia when towers do not have mains power.

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