NBN tech choice program delivers just three FttP connections in a year

Only three fibre-on-demand connections have been made since the option launched in March last year.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has made just three fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) connections under its technology choice program after launching it over a year ago.

"There have been three fibre-to-the-premises connections through the technology choice program," NBN said in response to a Senate Estimates Question on Notice.

The fibre-on-demand program, launched in March 2015, offers Australians a pure fibre alternative to NBN's fibre-to-the-node (FttN), fibre-to-the-basement (FttB), fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FttDP), hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed-wireless, and satellite connections -- if they pay an application fee, a field quote fee, and then the cost of installing the fibre, which NBN said last year could average around AU$4,300 per premises.

ZDNet understands that less than 500 applications for fibre on demand have been received, with NBN currently reviewing below 100.

NBN chief customer officer John Simon told ZDNet last year that there are two options for the fibre-on-demand product: An Area Switch, covering between 150 and 350 premises; and an Individual Switch, covering one.

Application fees for an Individual Switch cost AU$330, as does the quote fee, while Area Switches cost AU$1,100 per fibre distribution area, with the quote fee specified "upon application".

"It enables an individual or a consortium of individuals ... even councils to make that choice, and they would contribute to the incremental upgrade," Simon said.

The cost would be determined with reference to the cost differential between rolling out the technology choice that NBN had planned for a given area or premises and that of using solely fibre.

"The cost to change technology infrastructure for Area Switch could range from tens of thousands of dollars to few millions of dollars, and for Individual Premises Switch from few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars where the cost is generally dependent upon size and complexity of the project," NBN Co said in documentation.

"As various factors will impact on the final cost to move to the alternate technology, NBN Co will assess every application individually so that these various factors can be taken into account, and so that it can provide applicants with a high-level cost estimate."

If only one individual in a given area requests full FttP, it would drive the cost even higher.

In February, one Tasmanian council said it would be requesting a refund on the fee it was charged by NBN for a cost analysis of upgrading two regions from FttN to FttP, because it was not detailed enough to warrant a AU$10,000 fee.

The estimate was between AU$2.75 million to AU$3.3 million for the Westbury and Hagley region upgrade, and AU$2.2 million to AU$2.75 million to upgrade Hadspen and Traveller's Rest.

"There was no explanation of how the estimate figures were arrived at, and it appears there was no on-the-ground consideration given to the situation in each area, such as an inspection of assets or consultation with council," said Councillor Andrew Connor.

"A further request to NBN Co for more information about this estimate did not provide any solid justification as to why the application fee of AU$10,000 resulted in an estimate lacking in any detail to help councillors or the community determine the value of proceeding in this matter."

NBN told ZDNet at the time that it charges a standard fee to ensure applications are genuine.

"These fees are detailed on the NBN website and agreed before a quote is undertaken, and are not refundable," an NBN spokesperson said.

"The fee structure also helps applicants get a likely cost estimate without having to commit to a large design fee."

Rockhampton Regional Council and Burnie City Council have also received cost estimates, while Goulburn Mulwaree Council, Greater Shepparton City Council, and Flinders Council have made applications.

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