Signs point to NBN construction ramp-up

Figures released last week showed that NBN Co passed 22,100 brownfield premises with fibre in the first three months of 2013, but can the company make up the gap to meet its targets by the end of June?
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

In a buried press release (PDF) last week, NBN Co revealed that just 22,100 brownfields premises were passed by National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre in the first three months of 2013. Will NBN Co be able to make up the difference in the second quarter?

It was in March that the government-owned company revealed that it would not meet its original target of passing 341,000 premises with NBN fibre by the end of June, instead winding it back down to between 190,000 and 220,000. This would mean between 155,000 and 175,000 brownfields sites, and between 35,000 and 45,000 greenfields sites.

This came after figures released by one of NBN Co's access seekers showed that between January and the end of February, the network had only reached an additional 1,400 premises.

NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley said at the time that there had been difficulty in mobilising construction contractors in the field. However, he said that it was a short-term issue that could be made up this year. In the process, NBN Co took over construction of the network in the Northern Territory from Syntheo.

The release by NBN Co last week suggests that the company is beginning to see a ramp-up in March, with a total of 22,100 brownfields premises passed as of the end of March, bringing the total to 68,200. This means that in one month, NBN Co passed over 20,000 premises.

While this is a great improvement on the first few months of the year, NBN Co's construction contractors will need to be passing even more premises per day in order to get to the 155,000 to 175,000 premises passed figure for brownfields by the end of June.

In new housing estates, by the end of March, NBN Co had reached another 1,560 premises, up to 27,860. The company will need to reach between 7,000 and 17,000 more in the second quarter in order to reach its June target.

Where NBN Co has made dramatic leaps and bounds in the first three months of 2013 is in the number of customers connecting to the network. NBN Co was close to doubling the number of brownfields services from 6,600 at the end of December to 11,300 at the end of March. In greenfields, it was a similar story, with 3,800 at the end of December, jumping up to 7,500 at the end of March.

Including the fixed-wireless and satellite customers, NBN Co now has 48,600 active services on the network as of the end of March.

The company has set the target of having 44,000 brownfields premises and 10,000 greenfields premises using the NBN by the end of June. In order to reach this target, NBN Co will need to have at least around the same number of total brownfields customers as it had at the end of March — 11,000 premises — coming on per month from April until the end of June.

The company is much more likely to meet its greenfields target, where it only needs an additional 2,500 active services to meet its June target.

The company's executives are due to appear before a Budget Estimates hearing on Thursday next week, where NBN Co has historically provided the latest rollout and uptake figures. This will be the last estimates hearing that the executives will face before the September 14 federal election. The other parliamentary committee overseeing the NBN rollout is due to deliver its fifth report before the election, but partisan politics between Labor and Coalition members of the committee has threatened to derail the report.

It is likely that any further revisions to the forecast will be seized upon by Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has previously said that the delays point to a failure in the policy of rolling out fibre to the premises.

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