Prepare for policy change: Committee to NBN Co

The committee investigating the NBN rollout has told NBN Co to prepare to minimise risk should there be a change in policy after the September Australian election.

In the final report of the joint parliamentary committee investigating the National Broadband Network (NBN), the committee has recommended that NBN Co prepare for a change of policy.

Committee chair Rob Oakeshott today tabled the final report of the committee ahead of the September federal election, stating that with the release of the Coalition's NBN alternative policy , Australians would now get some form of the NBN.

"For all the challenges of the largest infrastructure build in our nation's history, as well as the policy risks to manage at the September 2013 election, Australians can now be confident the NBN will be completed in some form," he said.

"I have personally done what I can to see the NBN completed to the best standard possible. I invite the 44th parliament and its NBN oversight committee to commit to doing likewise."

To that end, the top recommendation of the committee report said that NBN Co should update its corporate plan to "prepare strategies to minimise risk in any policy changes that may reasonably be expected to occur in the 2012-2015 period".

Under the Coalition, the fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) part of the NBN for 93 percent of the population would be scaled back to a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) policy for 71 percent of premises, with 22 percent to continue to get fibre to the premises.

The Coalition would likely roll out fibre to the basement of apartment complexes, as the party believes this will be substantially more cost effective than replacing in-building copper wiring with fibre. NBN Co undertook a study into this option itself prior to the release of its 2012 corporate plan; however, the company refused to release the document when ZDNet sought its release under Freedom of Information.

Among the other recommendations of the report, the committee has asked for more information on the rollout of the fibre network in regional Australia, for NBN Co to closely monitor whether its interim satellite service reaches capacity, and to ensure that alternative arrangements are made if that occurs. The committee has also suggested that the government keep considering whether private investors can be brought in to fund the NBN.

The final recommendation of the report targets the ongoing delays in the construction of the network due to issues with NBN Co's contractors. The committee has recommended that NBN Co work with contractors to ensure sufficient mobilisation of the construction workforce, and look to use local recruitment firms for construction efforts.

Coalition calls for NBN Co headcount reduction

As would be expected three months out from an election, the committee remained divided for its final report, with the Coalition MPs releasing their own dissenting report.

The Coalition members noted that NBN Co's headcount from June 2012 to February 2013 had risen by nearly 50 percent from 1,674 to 2,477 full-time staff members, with staff costs for the year to the end of May 2013 at AU$295 million.

There was also significant turnover in the company, with six of the nine key management personnel leaving since 2011, 14 senior executives and 55 executive-level staffers leaving since October 2009, and five of the original nine members of NBN Co's board stepping down.

As an indication for what the Coalition would intend to do in government, the Coalition has called for NBN Co to reduce indirect operating expenditure overheads by 20 percent over the next two years.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also questioned the relationship between new NBN Co chair Siobhan McKenna and NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley. Turnbull has asked for the government to confirm that the pair will remain in their positions after the election, amid speculation that McKenna has been testing support with other NBN Co board members to terminate Quigley's employment with the company.

The Coalition also called for NBN Co to conduct a rigorous analysis of alternative options to the fibre-to-the-premises model, including fibre to the node and hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) upgrades. The party also recommended that NBN Co bring in the private sector to get through the backlog of new housing estates much faster than is currently being achieved.