NBN inquiry calls for more fibre, independent audit

A parliamentary inquiry into the rollout of the NBN has called on the government to ensure that as much as possible of the remaining fixed-line network is completed using fibre to the curb (FTTC) or fibre to the premises (FTTP).

The first report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network was tabled today. Its conclusions include that that much of fibre to the node (FTTN) infrastructure deployed so far as part of the rollout “will likely need to be substantially upgraded in the short term”.

“All the evidence strongly suggests that speed and data requirements of Australian households and business will continue to grow rapidly,” the report states.

“While nbn has outlined the framework they are working from to be able to deliver an upgrade as the market demands it, this 'user pays' approach runs the risk of creating a digital divide in which low socioeconomic areas with poor NBN are not upgraded because the demand and matching revenue will not meet the nbn upgrade model. As it stands, Australia will not be provided with a fast, affordable, ubiquitous, and fair broadband network.”

The committee cited data provided by NBN that it said indicated “on current indications there will be 15 per cent of households with fixed line NBN who will only receive 50 megabits per second or less.”

That conclusion is drawn from data NBN revealed in August, showing that 35 per cent of premises with FTTN connections are currently topping out at 50Mbps at best.

However, NBN claimed that those speeds were “subject to co-existence profile settings, which reduces performance to prevent interference with legacy services during the 18 month migration window” and that speeds could be expected to increase after legacy copper services are switched off.

NBN said that after the copper network is switched off in an area it would fix any connections with speeds that fail to meet the minimum 25Mbps mandated by the government (such a fix could involve rolling out a different access technology or potentially rolling out new copper).

NBN is currently planning to roll out FTTC to around a million premises. The technology is similar to FTTN in that is uses the existing copper phone lines to connect to households. However, the length of copper used by FTTC is far shorter compared to FTTN, with fibre rolled out to the telecom pits on the street.

(An additional difference is that FTTC doesn’t require a powered node, instead relying on power drawn from an end user’s home or business.)

Another major recommendation of the report is for “an independent audit and assessment of the long-term assumptions underpinning nbn's financial projections and business case as set out in the Corporate Plan 2018-21”.

NBN is currently forecasting revenue of $5.4 billion in FY21, up from $1 billion in FY17, and 8.1 million active connections, up from 2.4 million in FY17. Overall, NBN has said it expects a takeup rate of 73-75 per cent in areas covered by its network, with monthly average revenue per user (ARPU of $52 by FY21.

In total, the committee’s report makes 23 recommendations, ranging from the government requiring NBN to develop a plan to use the company’s fixed wireless towers to offer mobile telephony to an overhaul of the regulation of broadband wholesale services.

The full report is available online.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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