NBN Co has changed its rollout plans for the National Broadband Network, and says it will no longer meet its original target for the number of homes it reaches by the middle of this year, adding a three-month delay. What does that mean if you're hanging out for a higher-speed connection?
The most recent NBN Co target was for 341,000 premises to have been passed by the end of this financial year (in June). (Note that the number is premises passed, not premises connected.) NBN Co now says the June figure will be between 190,000 and 220,000, which is a major fall. However, it is still predicting that 341,000 will have been passed within three months of June and that the project will be finished by 2021. (Of those premises, between 155,000 and 175,000 will be passed existing homes, while between 35,000 and 45,000 will be in new housing estates.)
"I should be clear, this short-term issue will not affect the long-term delivery of the NBN or the overall cost of the project," CEO Mike Quigley said in a statement. He expanded on this in a media conference call today. "This is a three-month delay at the start of a decade-long project . . . Although we're disappointed, we have to keep it in perspective." Other elements have not been affected, he said. "These construction problems are a short-term issue and will not affect the long-term rollout or the overall cost."
The big issue? NBN Co's private partners are not hiring staff at an appropriate pace, Quigley said. "It's not about labour rates, it's not about labour shortages. There are enough people in Australia to build this network." One planned measure to fix the problem is to hire another 80 fibre splicers to work on the project. (We've noted before that fibre-splicing is a lucrative career option.) Other changes include NBN Co taking over the management of the rollout in the Northern Territory.
But what does it mean for consumers? Those changes will need to be reflected on the NBN deployment maps before any individual can assess their full impact. However, if you are in an area which was due to be completed by June, the odds of your getting a connection have fallen. The overall completion date is still not until 2021, and guessing when you'll get connected if your outside this year's rollouts is all but impossible.
NBN Co's rollout figures change quite frequently, and it's not altogether surprising that a project with a 10-year timescale is going to see revisions. However, with the NBN such a highly charged political issue and the announcement coming on a day of high political drama, expect to see these numbers endlessly debated in the days ahead and presented both as evidence for NBN Co's lack of project management skills and for its long-time viability.