It's Official: The Government's New Plan For The Future Of NBN Co

Australia's federal heavies have written to NBN Co to officially advise it of Government's new expectations for the future rollout of Australia's National Broadband Network. From today, the plan is clear — the NBN will use a multi-technology mix of mainly fibre to the node, fixed wireless and satellite to deliver broadband to Australian citizens at a minimum of 25Mbps nationwide.

The Government's revised Statement of Expectations from Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has been delivered to NBN Co, and outlines the ruling party's decisions for the future of the NBN (and NBN Co) made after consultation on the Strategic Review released to the public in December last year.

Here are the big changes in the new document from the previous interim Statement, which was laid out in September 2013:

  • The multi-technology mix rollout of the NBN, using mainly fibre to the node for the majority of the build, "will be guided by the Government's policy objectives of providing download data rates (and proportionate upload rates) of at least 25 megabits per second to all premises and at least 50 megabits per second to 90 per cent of fixed line premises as soon as possible."
  • Following the recommendations of the Strategic Review, "NBN Co will integrate existing HFC networks into the rollout where this is feasible" — Telstra and Optus' cable will form part of the multi-technology mix, reducing any incidences of overbuilding the network.
  • NBN Co will roll out different technologies on an area-by-area basis as appropriate, "so as to minimise peak funding, optimise economic returns and enhance [NBN Co's] viability."

What Does All This Mean?

All the possible cost-cutting plans that the Liberal government has been suggesting it may implement since it won the last election are now official NBN Co policy. The outcome of the government's Strategic Review into NBN Co was that things needed to change to deliver the "fast, affordable, sooner" outcomes that it wanted; these changes are now being put into place.

Having a minimum performance requirement in the Statement of Expectations of 25Mbps is a good thing; it ensures that there's a base level for any and all technologies used to deliver NBN to your house, although the less exact "proportional" upload speed expectation is a little less inspiring. The inclusion of a 50Mbps standard for 90 per cent of fixed-line premises in the future is also a positive inclusion. "At least" 25Mbps also opens the doors to potential or future 100Mbps (or faster) connections for end users, so if you're still holding out hope for super-fast broadband, it's still a possibility.

The biggest change from prevailing Labor government instructions to NBN Co is the codifying of a "multi-technology mix" into the rollout plans; as future rollouts are planned on an area-by-area basis, the most cost-effective choice of fibre to the node, fibre to the premises, HFC, fixed wireless and satellite will be used. This means that one street in a suburb might have fibre to the node, one might use fibre to the home, and another might use the existing Telstra or Optus cable network already in place in some premises. It's a long way from the holy grail of entire suburbs built-up with fibre to each home, of course.

This most recent development is just the government making official its long-held plans for the National Broadband Network — the new Statement of Expectations is Ministers Turnbull and Cormann giving the green light to plans that have been discussed both inside and outside NBN Co for some time. The new plan has been approved without a cost-benefit analysis being completed; there is an analysis underway at the moment but it is not expected to deliver a finding for at least another month.

Turnbull today told attendees at the Communications Day Summit in Sydney that the existing plan for the NBN rollout was overly optimistic of how many Australian houses would be served by fixed-line technologies, saying that up to 300,000 premises could miss out on the NBN if plans weren't changed to work around newfound problems acquiring wireless spectrum and dealing with an already-full satellite network.

The new network plan ostensibly solves that issue, among others, but it's a long way from the original Statement of Expectations sent by then-Labor Government Ministers Penny Wong and Stephen Conroy to NBN Co a few years ago.

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