Turnbull Begins Bending NBN Co To His Will

It's happening. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has started shaping the National Broadband Network Company and its network to his will. Here's what will happen with the National Broadband Network in the next few months and into 2014.

Turnbull today stood up at a press conference in Sydney and presented the first of many plans to guide NBN Co into the Abbott-government world. The document that will guide the strategy during this transition period is called the Interim Statement of Expectations.

This Interim Statement will guide the NBN Co's construction and operational activities moving forward over the next few months, while waiting on incoming changes to the board and the need for a new Corporate Plan after a series of reviews.

Here's what you need to know.

FTTP or FTTN?

The National Broadband Network Company right now has a series of contracts in place which instruct workers to stick fibre in the ground and roll it up to people's houses for fibre to the home. Breaking those contracts would trigger considerable penalties for the government and create uncertainty for businesses and their shareholders.

It's for this reason that Turnbull has opted for a business-as-usual approach for the time being. That means that fibre-to-the-home will be rolled out to homes and businesses where construction has currently started, rather than pulling workers out of the area.

The NBN Co will be subject to three different reviews — one of which is likely to be a cost-benefit analysis. Those reviews will kick off after the new board is appointed and will run for 60 days.

After that, Turnbull and the Government will consider the outcomes and decide on how the rest of the network should be rolled out.

Turnbull's overarching concern is still to deliver fast broadband to as many people as possible, as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

As for the premises currently stuck in the limbo of the NBN three-year roll-out plan, Turnbull said that a new Corporate Plan would be created following the reviews by the new board members to give the business an updated long-term project goal.

Lower Roll-Out Targets

One of the more tangible changes to the NBN between now and next year announced at Turnbull's press conference will be just how many homes will be passed by the fibre-to-the-home network between now and 30 June next year.

Turnbull says that the NBN Co will now pass only half as many properties it said it would at its last target announcement, before pledging that the new targets would be more measured in future.

"We want sensible, conservative targets, not ones that sound good at a press conference then fall over months later. There has to be hard-headed, more practical business management. My commitment is to make sure that this process is as non-political as possible," he said.

New Technologies

Turnbull said that the expectations document will centre around minimising disruption for consumers, industry and contractor employment, while achieving a less costly and faster roll-out in the long term.

In order to facilitate this, Turnbull said that he would instruct NBN Co to begin experimenting with VDSL technology for multi-dwelling premises like apartments and office blocks to reduce the backlog of 66,000 properties where those passed by the network currently can't connect.

Turnbull then added that the 900,000 premises set to be passed by fibre-to-the-home on the current one-year plan will be adjusted according to the findings of the review. 645,000 other premises are still being factored into the network design over the three-year plan, meaning their fates will also be decided after the reviews.

What Stays?

It's not all blood letting and doom, however. Turnbull has advised that some parts of the network should continue to be built and tweaked.

Turnbull wants NBN Co to keep working on:

• deploying the fixed wireless network and • deploying services over interim satellite • long term satellite service work • transit network and points-of-interconnect work • development of special and enterprise services • existing greenfields rollouts

Board Members

This week we've heard a lot about the board members of NBN Co, and this afternoon we heard a little more.

Despite the fact that Turnbull spent months if not a whole year indirectly slagging off the management of the NBN Co and its consistent delays, the new Communications Minister said that he "doesn't want to run a commentary on the NBN Co's accounts". That's certainly a change of tune.

Regardless, he confirmed that NBN Co's executive leadership — bar one — tendered their resignations at the request of the government to "ensure flexibility" in the future of the project.

At the end of the day, Turnbull said that he wants to be technology agnostic when it comes to deploying the NBN. "We're not dogmatic about technology," he added, while saying that he wants to be completely open about the roll-out.

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