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NBN 'too scared' to roll out HFC: Rowland

The government is 'hiding something' in relation to NBN's announcement that it will delay the HFC network rollout, Michelle Rowland has said, arguing that it is too scared to activate users in Bennelong.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor on

The Australian government and the National Broadband Network (NBN) company are "too scared" to roll out the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network, Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has argued.

"We know now that NBN, that this government, that this prime minister is too scared to be rolling out HFC because it's not working," Rowland said on Monday afternoon.

"It is time for [Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull] to fess up that his multi-technology mix has failed. That his HFC experiment is a dud. That it is the consumers of Australia, Australian taxpayers, who are paying the price for his complete ineptitude, for this debacle."

Rowland further tied the decision to delay the rollout of HFC to next month's Bennelong by-election following the resignation of John Alexander over eligibility issues, pointing out that the majority of the Bennelong electorate is slated to be connected with HFC.

"They're too scared because they know that the predominant technology being used for the NBN in Bennelong is actually HFC," she said.

"[Turnbull] need only speak to people in Bennelong, ask them how they are feeling, ask them what they think of having further delays in terms of being connected."

With Labor long having fought against HFC, particularly following leaked NBN documents two years ago revealing that the Optus HFC network was not fit for purpose, Rowland further accused the government of keeping secrets on the state of the network.

"I know this government is hiding something," she said.

"There is a reason why this was announced today. We actually had a spillover Senate Estimates hearing late last week. This was not mentioned. You would have thought that this was something that was being contemplated for some time, that this was an important piece of information that NBN Co might want to share with the Senate, but no.

"Something very mysterious is being hidden from the Australian people here. There are more questions than answers."

Telstra has also spoken out, saying it will need to assess the impact of NBN's announcement on its FY18 guidance.

"The delay in the NBN rollout will delay a proportion of the payments to Telstra from NBN into future periods," Telstra said in an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange.

"Telstra acknowledges NBN Co's core priority to protect the customer experience and will work with NBN Co on this goal ... Telstra will keep impacted customers informed and discuss disconnection obligations with NBN Co and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to minimise customer impact during this period."

Earlier on Monday, NBN CEO Bill Morrow had announced that the company would be delaying the rollout of its HFC network until it can repair various issues, including network dropouts.

"We're going to delay the rollout of the HFC network until we can adjust issues on the network to give quality services," Morrow told media on Monday.

According to Morrow, the HFC network has seen a faster-paced rollout than any of its other technologies, with NBN unable to correct issues fast enough to keep the impact on customers at a minimum.

With 3.1 million premises in the HFC footprint, Morrow told ZDNet that 370,000 are already connected and an additional 50,000 are queued to be connected. All remaining premises slated to be connected by HFC will see delays of between six and nine months.

The delay will taper down over the next 18 months, he explained, and as a result "will not jeopardise the rollout being complete by 2020".

"We have 1.2 million premises that are already declared ready for service; of that 1.2, 1 million are ready to connect; of that 1 million that's ready to connect, 370,000 have already been activated on the network. We have about 50,000 orders that are in the queue that we will honour and activate those onto the network, and those thereafter are what we're going to suspend or delay," Morrow told ZDNet.

"Not all of these are having those sorts of issues. Many of them, most of them in fact, are satisfied with their service. But the few that are we want to address immediately."

It is too early to tell how much the delays and repairs will cost, he said.

"Effectively, it is just strengthening the integrity of the network medium itself to be sure that we can operate at that frequency band with no interference," he said.

"By the time we open those homes back up to receive orders, this network will have a higher quality of service that we are planning for it, we will see improved processes across the board, as well as the data integrity we are sure will improve their experience."

The rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 in late 2018 will help with the issue, Morrow added.

Morrow's comments follow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announcing earlier this month that it will be conducting a public inquiry into NBN's wholesale service standard levels to determine whether regulation is required, after saying in its Communications Sector Market Study: Draft report [PDF] that "immediate measures" are needed to address dissatisfaction.

During NBN's financial results announcement earlier this month, Morrow had said the company is NBN is focused on improvements to customer experience, working with retail service providers (RSPs) across solutions for when a consumer is connected; improving their services once connected; and solutions for when a consumer experiences a service fault.

Over the last quarter, Morrow also said complaints about NBN to the TIO have already declined by 26 percent in regards to services, and declined by 33 percent for missed appointments.

Previous NBN Coverage

NBN delays HFC rollout until customer experience issues fixed

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