Ask LH: Will The NBN Work In My Street Ever Be Completed?

Hey Lifehacker, Three weeks ago NBN cables were laid in our street. With the Coalition election win, does it mean our homes will never be connected to the NBN? Does all NBN work cease as of now, or in suburbs where work has already commenced will it be allowed to proceed to completion? Thanks, Connection Seeker

Dear Connection Seeker,

First point: the Coalition has not said it doesn’t want the National Broadband Network (NBN). It hasn’t even said it doesn’t want the NBN to be run and built by a government organisation. Its plan for broadband, announced in April this year, favours fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) and aims to prioritise investment in areas where speed is lowest, but still keeps the fundamental NBN approach in place. This is a big switch from its previous position, which was that the entire project should be canned. That’s not to understate the complexities of changing the basic network design, but it isn’t the case that everything is being switched off. Existing NBN customers won’t see any change to their service based on what we know so far.

The reality is that it’s going to take some time before it becomes clear exactly how the ‘new’ NBN approach works. One of the key elements of the Coalition plan is to conduct an audit of currently available speeds, with the aim of having areas with particularly poor speeds upgraded first. This is supposed to be completed within three months. That timetable might seem ambitious, but even if we take it on face value, it means nothing much will change in that period. The government will also need to renegotiate its access deal with Telstra, which could be a protracted process (the original negotiation with Telstra took almost a year, and Telstra’s emphasis is on maximising shareholder returns).

In the meantime, at least some work will go on. The NBN is being built by private contractors, so it can’t be stalled entirely without incurring additional expense. Another point: the Coalition plan aims to have speeds of theoretical speeds of 25Mbps available to the majority of premises by 2016. Stopping implementation altogether makes that a more difficult task to achieve.

Also worth noting: the Coalition doesn’t currently control the Senate. If it wanted to make really big changes to NBN legislation, it would need the support of Labor and the Greens, which seems unlikely. That changes in mid-2014, but even then minor party support will likely be needed. That said, right now more of the NBN implementation is reliant on contracts than on the underlying legislation.

So what does all this mean in your street right now? The government plan favours using existing infrastructure whenever possible, and if fibre has already run through your area, not taking advantage of it would seem pointless. The money has been spent.

In practical terms, the availability of the NBN to your house depends on having an NBN utility box installed. In some areas, NBN Co has been installing these as it goes; in others, it waits until customers ask for a connection. It doesn’t sound like utility boxes are being installed in your street by default.

In your position, I would be choosing an ISP (check out our Planhacker NBN guide and contacting them to ask if installation is available. If your street is indeed wired up, you’ll have NBN before you know it. If the work in your street isn’t actually complete, you’ll still get a better idea of when a service might be possible.


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