The New NBN: Uncosted, No Upload Speeds And No Timetable

The National Broadband Network (NBN) plan the Coalition took to the 2013 election included a promise that its NBN plans would be subject to a cost-benefit analysis before rollout and that the majority of Australians would be connected to higher-speed services by 2016. Six months later, neither of those things is true anymore.

Tearing picture from Shutterstock

The government this week sent its official updated Statement of Expectations to NBN Co, which is building the network. That plan mostly echoes what had already been established as likely policy during the strategic review of NBN Co: a move to using a mixture of technologies (including fibre to the node, existing copper networks, HFC cable, satellite, wireless and anything else that might pop up) rather than a fibre-to-the-premises approach.

Under that plan, guaranteed minimum speeds would be 25Mbps for downloads — much slower than fibre-to-the-premises, but (so we were told at the time) much cheaper and faster to roll out. As has always been the case with the Coalition approach, there’s no commitment to specific upload speeds beyond saying they should be “proportionate”, which bites.

What’s telling about the statement is what it doesn’t say. It removes the specification that those services be rolled out by 2016, replacing that with a requirement that it be done “as soon as possible”. One of the key arguments the Coalition made against Labor’s NBN was that it was running behind schedule. Apparently, it has now decided that not having a schedule will avoid it facing any similar criticisms.

Secondly, the statement has been issued even though the promised cost-benefit analysis of the revised NBN vision hasn’t been completed and isn’t expected for some months. Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull told journalists that this approach reflected the fact that “The company has got to get on”. In opposition, Turnbull never missed an opportunity to highlight the importance of a cost-benefit analysis. In power, apparently that’s no longer a priority.

Admittedly, it’s very hard to do a cost-benefit analysis when you can’t even identify which areas currently have the worst connections or which technologies you plan to use. While the Coalition’s plan is supposed to serve the areas of greatest need first, the current MyBroadband map that it meant to identify connections available in any given area is riddled with errors.

The practical upshot of all this? Trying to find out when or if you’ll get an NBN connection remains effectively impossible. Some people might get some faster stuff eventually. That’s all we know.

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