The strategic review of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been completed, promising to deliver 100Mbps download speeds to two-thirds of Australians by 2019. The review says that is three years earlier than and much cheaper than would have been possible under the preceding Labor developed-plan — but it’s also three years later than the Coalition claimed it would deliver the NBN prior to the election. Regardless of politics, the key takeout is this: when any individual premises will be NBN-enabled is still entirely unclear.
The strategic review was kicked off back in September, to assess the current state of NBN construction before working out an alternative approach. Its conclusion is grim: if that plan had been followed as set out, the NBN would have taken three years longer to construct and cost $73 billion.
The announcement of the review also claims that an alternative approach, using a mixture of existing networks and new systems, will be able to deliver speeds up to 100Mbps to two-thirds of Australians by 2019, and 50Mbps to 90 per cent by the same date. That is three years later than the Coalition’s pre-election promises, but does involve higher speeds than those plans.
The proposal is being described as a “multi-technology mix”. That means it includes existing NBN FTTP rollouts, other existing fibre networks, the current HFC pay TV network, the NBN satellites, the use of higher-speed connections on fibre where possible, and other “future advances in telecommunications technology”.
In other words: we’re being promised that services will be available for a fixed cost and by a fixed date, even though many of the details were missing. The announcement optimistically assumes that while the original plans developed over a longer period were filled with enough flaws to send them off the rails, the 60-day strategic review doesn’t suffer from similar problems.
So what happens next? Achieving the strategic review requires the NBN corporate plan to be adjusted, and contracts with Telstra and other suppliers to be re-negotiated. That could take a while. (The original NBN contracts with Telstra held the project up by almost a year.)
The immediate outcome is that no-one — including customers in areas where fibre is currently being constructed — can really tell when services will be available where they live, or how much choice they have. If you live in an area with pay TV cabling, it’s a reasonable guess that might be the main choice in your area. If you live in an area with dodgy copper, you’ll need to cross your fingers that it gets replaced. If you live in a remote area, your best hope is still that the NBN Co Satellites will be up and running by 2015. And if you live in an area on the current NBN construction map, you’ll be hoping the delays ensure your street actually gets covered.