No guarantees on NBN download speeds: Switkowski

NBN Co will not be guaranteeing 25Mbps download speeds, according to NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski, because NBN guarantees have 'lost their currency'.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Although Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull went to the 2013 federal election promising minimum download speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for all Australians by 2016, NBN Co executive chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski said that the company will not be making any such guarantees.

In the press release accompanying NBN Co's strategic review released last week, NBN Co said it would be designing a "new-look NBN" to provide the guaranteed speeds to NBN Co's wholesale customers, while end-user speeds will depend on factors outside of NBN Co's control, including end-user equipment quality, software, broadband plans, and the ISPs.

The result means that although NBN Co would offer the retail service providers a minimum speed, it would not guarantee that the speeds achieved at the end user's premises might be substantially lower than that.

The review has already suggested that the Coalition's pre-election promise that all Australian premises would get 25Mbps download speeds by 2016 will not be achievable, with only 43 percent of premises expected to be able to get those speeds, and almost all of those serviced by the existing hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks.

But Switkowski told a Senate Select committee hearing on the NBN in Sydney on Tuesday that NBN Co would not even guarantee 25Mbps to that 43 percent of premises. He said that due to missed targets and other revisions during the life of the NBN, the word "guarantee" has lost meaning.

"One of the problems I have found in the review in the past, there has been too big a takeup in words like guarantee," he said.

"It's clear that after four years, guarantees have lost currency."

NBN Co now projects that it will pass between 350,000 and 400,000 brownfields premises with fibre by the end of June, 2014. This is substantially lower than the 450,000 that Turnbull told ZDNet in November NBN Co would pass.

Former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy accused Switkowski of "low-balling" the NBN targets, and slowing down the fibre rollout, but Switkowski said that Conroy was not aware of the inner workings of NBN Co and its construction partners.

"We have all of the data, and we understand what is happening out in the field," he said.

"The industry shuts down from December to the middle of January. We have 23 weeks in which to do that, maybe 22 when you exclude Easter."

Switkowski said the target accounts for passing around 4,000 premises per week.

The committee sought access to the un-redacted strategic review in private, which would include detail on cost per premises passed and other information that NBN Co deemed to be "commercial-in-confidence". In a letter provided to the committee by Switkowski from Turnbull, the minister rejected this request, stating that the information was Cabinet-in-confidence.

The committee is accepting submissions on the NBN review until early January, and has encouraged members of the public to make their views known by uploading a submission on the NBN committee's website.

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