NBN rollout 'stalled' on asbestos issue, not Turnbull

Claims that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has 'stalled' the NBN after the election are inaccurate, according to NBN Co, which is laying the blame for the post-election slowdown on the asbestos issue.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The "stalling" of the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre-to-the-premises network in existing housing areas for the month of October came as a result of the need to recommence pit and duct remediation after the Telstra asbestos issue, NBN Co has said.

According to the first weekly update issued by NBN Co yesterday on the progress of the NBN rollout, in the last four weeks, NBN Co has barely managed to pass an additional 2,000 brownfields premises with the fibre network.

In fact, for two consecutive weeks, the number of premises passed in those areas actually declined from 227,483 on September 29 down to 227,454 on October 6, and then down to 227,447 on October 14. As of October 27, the network has passed 229,398 existing housing premises, with 70,686 of those premises unable to order a service.

On Sky News last night, former communications minister and now Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Conroy said that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is now responsible for "stalling" the NBN as the company conducts its 60-day strategic review that will in part determine whether the fibre-to-the-premises project continues, or whether alternative technologies such as fibre to the node are embraced.

Conroy said that in the coming weeks, NBN Co's construction contractors would begin laying off some of the workers building the network because of the stalling.

NBN Co denied that the change of government after the election had resulted in the network slowdown. A spokesperson for NBN Co told ZDNet that the effects of Telstra halting pit and duct remediation in the wake of the highly publicised asbestos management problems are still being felt.

"The remediation halt was always going to have a knock-on effect to the rest of the rollout. And the effect of an 84-day stoppage in May, June, July, and August was always going to be most keenly felt in the final quarter of this calendar year," the spokesperson said.

"Remember, the resumption of remediation from 19 August was a gradual process, and where remediation needs to occur, that process takes an average of three months."

The decline in the number of premises passed was related to NBN Co receiving more accurate national address data, according to NBN Co.

The publication of the first weekly rollout update came as NBN Co removed data from its rollout maps that had indicated areas where the company was expecting to roll out the fibre network in the next three years. Labor has claimed that the change shows the areas that will now miss out on the fibre-to-the-premises network under the Coalition government, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott today said that the change is more "honest" with the public on where construction is underway.

He said that the NBN under the former government was built on "assertions" and promises of rollout targets that had been broken.

This morning, Turnbull told the ABC that the move was aimed at removing the long-controversial "construction commenced or completed" term to describe any premises in an area where even just the basic high-level design work is underway.

"Under the Labor regime, they were basically being misled," he said.

"The Labor fog and spin about the NBN has been brought to an end."

NBN Co also removed its raw data on the rollout, which had been used by keen NBN supporters to see where the rollout was up to and where the project would hit next.

Editorial standards