Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference this afternoon to discuss what happens next with the National Broadband Network (NBN), an issue that has been on everyone’s mind since the Coalition took power. The good news? The rollout of fibre-to-the-premises will continue in the near term and there will be active work to connect premises which are passed by NBN fibre but not currently linked to it. The bad news? It looks like that number is much lower than NBN Co last projected, and we don’t yet have fixed timing for the planned 60-day strategic review of the NBN rollout.
As expected, the government wants a 60-day strategic review of current NBN rollouts and costs. That, however, won’t happen until a new board has been appointed. There had been speculation that Turnbull would announce board members today, but that didn’t happen. Even if the board was announced tomorrow, a 60-day review would take us close to Christmas.
Until that changeover, NBN Co will continue to roll out work that has been contracted. In practical terms, that means if an NBN truck has recently been in your street, you should be able to get a fibre-to-the-premises connection. That could amount to as money as 300,000 more connections. Turnbull is also keen for the estimated 66,000 premises which have been passed by fibre but not actually connected to be hooked up. The eventual goal is to have weekly figures released on premises passed.
The downside? According to Turnbull, the number of premises that NBN Co is scheduled to pass by June 2014 is apparently going to be revised downwards by almost half. That means that if you’re on the NBN Co rollout map for a date in the near future, you may be waiting longer.
The Coalition’s policy was to have the basic rollout completed by 2016. Whether that can be achieved won’t be clear until after the strategic review.
The announcement was, by NBN-related standards, relatively devoid of political bickering. Turnbull even stepped back from the pre-election Coalition positioning that using VDSL would definitely be used, saying whatever technology was suitable and affordable would be used: “We’ve envisioned an example of that in our policy documents . . . We are not dogmatic about technology. Technology is not an ideological issue.”
Turnbull’s key message? “It’s early days, watch this space. It is a very difficult and complex project” I wouldn’t start assuming we’ll see a full switch back to FTTP, but it’s a more relaxed approach than the hardline pre-election stances might have made you think.