Turnbull slowing down the NBN? Not so fast

When NBN Co changed its metric to measure brownfields passed last year, the waters were muddied because it was not possible to equate apples with apples.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Imagine if according to NBN Co's own figures, the number of new brownfields premises passed each week fell from 4,532 per week between July 7, 2013, and March 31, 2014, to only 3,374 premises per week from April 2014 until December 31 of that year. Surely, it would be undoubted proof that under the guiding hand of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, NBN Co has slowed down its broadband rollout.

The idea of Malcolm Turnbull sitting on NBN Co in order to slow down the broadband rollout is a popular online meme when discussing the NBN in Australia. The only problem with that idea, though, is that it is wrong.

At the bottom of NBN Co's weekly rollout stats each week is a footnote that everything is not as it seems with its numbers.

"Premises passed refers to homes and businesses passed by the active network, including premises activated and those which can't yet access a service (ie, Service Class Zero or SC0)," the note says. "From 1st April 2014, NBN Co releases premises to our retail service providers when the full FSAM is complete (and in some cases when around 90 percent of the FSAM is complete), except where the FSAM had commenced partial handover prior to 1 April 2014."

NBN Co chief operations officer Greg Adcock said back in July last year that the company had changed the metric based on feedback from retail service providers.

What this decision leaves NBN watchers with is a pre-April 2014 "Conrovian" methodology that included FSAMs at a much earlier point, and hence gave a large SC0 percentage that often sat at around one third of all premises, and a "Turnboolean" metric that waits until much later in the construction process to feed the FSAMs into the rollout numbers.

Essentially, these numbers are incomparable, because they are measuring different things -- hence, a comparison of run rate either side or across the April 1 change are meaningless when referring to brownfields premises passed.

However, even though it publicly does not disclose its set of Conrovian numbers anymore, NBN Co is still able to produce them.

In responding to a question on notice (PDF) from the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, NBN Co revealed its numbers using the old method for each week from July 31, 2014, until December 31, 2014.

(Screenshot: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

Over that time frame, the Turnboolean metric shows 73,050 premises passed at a rate of 3,479 per week. By comparison, the Conrovian measurement shows 175,181 brownfield premises passed with an average run rate of 8,341 passed each week.

(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

In fact, from the last Conrovian entry in NBN Co's statistics on March 31, 2014, until the first entry in the new data set on July 31, 2014, the average weekly run rate is 5,293 premises.

Clearly, then, not only was NBN Co failing to slow its rollout to a trickle as popular opinion would dictate, but by the end of 2014, NBN Co's rollout was running faster than ever.

As for what technology is used, that remains open to debate and interpretation, especially as fibre-to-the-node and fibre-to-the-basement products come online this year.

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