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Another NBN review floated as Labor plan to 'make best of what we have'

A Shorten Labor government would direct NBN to fix in-home cabling for copper connections for free.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

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(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

Labor has unveiled its plan for the National Broadband Network (NBN), ahead of an election expected to be called this weekend.

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said a Labor government would have an "immediate" review on the economics of the NBN and make the company responsible for deploying NBN across Australia undertake free work to improve the in-home cabling of 750,000 fibre-to-the-node (FttN) customers.

"Labor will commence an immediate review of the economics of the NBN, including the implications of the multi-technology mix on NBNCo's long-term cash flow position, capital structure, pricing evolution, and the capacity of NBNCo to co-invest in future infrastructure upgrades under a range of market scenarios," Rowland said.

"Consumers and taxpayers have every right to be angry with the Liberals for delivering a second-rate network that costs more and does less."

Rowland added that Labor would "safeguard" small business against NBN downtime, get 1 million more older and low-income households onto the network, and have a "reasonable approach" for future co-funded fibre upgrades on the FttN footprint.

"Undertake trials of fibre upgrades to validate costs and assess co-investment mechanisms to responsibly deliver targeted upgrades over the medium term," the Labor plan states.

The Shadow Communications Minister said there are realities with NBN that could not be undone, and the in-home cable upgrade to around 750,000 FttN premises would result in a AU$125 million jump to NBN's peak funding needs, while fibre trials would cost up to AU$60 million.

"We have to be intelligent, we have to be patient, and we have to do the right analysis in order to understand what is and what is not feasible," Rowland said.

In July, Labor called for the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) to review NBN's Corporate Plan.

"The NBN Corporate Plan contains various plans, projections, and other forward-looking estimates which, among other things, help the Australian people, Parliament, government, markets, and stakeholders assess the state of the business case and, by extension, the potential exposure of the Federal Budget and impact on consumers," Labor said at the time.

"We consider an urgent review of the long-term assumptions underpinning the latest Corporate Plan by the ANAO is the best mechanism to provide robust independent scrutiny of these matters to the Parliament. This was also a key recommendation of the NBN Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee."

The Opposition said in June it would create a NBN service guarantee if it were elected.

"At the moment, there are no meaningful remedies to make NBN accountable for missed appointments and customer downtime," Rowland and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said at the time.

"That's why Labor is acting to support small businesses and consumers by developing clear standards for connection timeframes, fault repair timeframes, and missed technician appointments.

"If NBNCo doesn't meet these standards then they'll be fined and the consumer will be compensated -- it's that simple."

Since that time, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from the NBN that saw the introduction of rebates for missed appointments.

For each late connection, fault rectification, and missed appointment, the NBN would hand AU$25 back to retailers. It also agreed to boost its reporting to retailers.

Despite being the party responsible for purchasing the AU$620 million satellites used by NBN, Labor in September 2017 wanted a review of NBN's satellite service.

"Increased data limits is a welcomed concession, but the Turnbull government must now address the issues around installation failures and reliability of service," Shadow Minister For Regional Communications Stephen Jones said in 2017.

"We know that reliable satellite broadband is vital for rural, regional, and remote Australia."

Recently, the NBN disclosed that fibre-to-the-premises is the least faulty connection type in NBN's mix of technology, and to February 19, had purchased 29,460 kilometres of copper cable.

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