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NSW lightning and floods punish NBN FttC connection devices

NBN Co has replaced almost 48,000 FttC connection devices across November to March as a result of severe weather.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The company responsible for the National Broadband Network has told the Senate it has replaced approximately 47,700 NBN Co Connection Devices (NCD) used on fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) connections, with New South Wales having the largest impact.

NBN said the main areas where lightning and floods resulted in NCD replacement were Penrith, Miranda, Frenchs Forest, Rockdale, Grafton, Mosman, Peakhurst, Glebe, and Campbelltown.

The company further said, during 2020, it swapped 57,000 NCDs and so far this year it has replaced 44,300 NCDs.

In March, the company said it was looking for a long-term solution to lightning frying FttC equipment, which was highlighted in the Blue Mountains area of NSW.

Of the 19,300 FttC premises in the region, NBN said it swapped out 5,507 NCDs last year, and 4,570 NCDs this year.

NBN added it replaced around 31,000 FttC distribution points so far, with 14,900 distribution points replaced in 2020 representing 2.14% of its FttC footprint, has replaced 13,000 or 1.3% of FttC lead-ins so far, and remediated 3.7% or 36,800 FttC lead-ins.

Earlier this month, NBN said it would look to upgrade FttC users to full fibre if they wished to receive speeds over 250Mbps.

On its fibre-to-the-node (FttN) technology, NBN said 4.16%, or 123,000 lines, should not hit its mandated 25Mbps download speed, and 2.54% could not hit the 5Mbps upload mandate. The company added some of that number were still in the co-existence period where NBN only guarantees 12Mbps down.

As of April 21, 37.4% of nodes in the FttN had exited co-existence.

For the 2021 fiscal year, NBN had an average fault rate of 0.77 faults each month per 100 active premises, or almost 566,000 faults for the 12 months. By technology, NBN had almost 222,500 faults on FttN and fibre-to-the-basement connections, 150,000 on FttC, 120,000 on cable, 51,000 on full fibre, 16,000 faults on fixed wireless, and almost 7,000 on satellite.

NBN did not answer a number of senator questions based on the concept that forecasting items such as operating expenditures and profitability could harm the company since it has entered private debt markets and because it was not in the interest of Australian taxpayers.

"Extending into debt capital markets brings a new suite of obligations and limitations. Publicly stating forecasts exposes NBN Co to potential risks of liability to debt investors and also to higher than necessary borrowing costs," it said.

"Forecasts or revised forecasts could be used by investors to drive up the price of the credit and force NBN Co to lock in higher than necessary borrowing costs. This is not in the interests of NBN Co, the Australian taxpayers, or our commercial partners."

The company also said because it is borrowing from overseas as well, it could be subject to foreign securities laws.

"Continuing to publish or discuss long term forecasts could expose NBN Co to liability if investors allege that they relied on forecasts. This is irrespective of the rigour of NBN Co forecasting or the company's belief that what is published is the best possible estimate at the time," it said.

"Taking these considerations into account, NBN Co determined that it would not be commercially prudent to release some information that may have been provided in previous Corporate Plans."

The company also said that as of April 21, it had 5,261 staff, of which 656 worked in its IT department, and 92 in its corporate affairs and public relations unit. The company said as of April 16, it had no workers in its internal field workforce that were "on visa or skilled migration". NBN said it updated its standard contracts in 2020 with an explicit "no sham contracting" obligation.

NBN contractors recently walked off the job in protest over the "NBN Co's shambolic management and pyramid contracting scheme".

In its third-quarter earnings, NBN said its residential average revenue per user remained stuck at AU$45. It told Senate Estimates that it still expects that number to hit AU$49 across the period of its current corporate plan. NBN said it would hit peak debt of AU$27.5 billion in the 2024 fiscal year.

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