The NBN Co has proposed to cut in half its most recent target forecast for premises past by 30 June next year, communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has revealed.
Speaking about the NBN’s future today in Sydney, the Coalition MP revealed that NBN Co had informed him that it intended to cut by nearly half its previous 30 June 2014 forecast of 981,000 homes and businesses.
Turnbull and finance minister Matthias Cormann have today issued an interim statement of expectations providing construction and operating guidance to the NBN Co while a new board is chosen, an independent audit is undertaken and a new strategic plan is drafted.
“The interim statement instructs the NBN Co to continue to roll out the network as rapidly and cost effectively as possible throughout this process.”
Construction will be completed in areas where construction contracts have been signed, and Turnbull promised a “steady flow of work on the NBN until well until 2014. This will provide certainty for contractors and ensure they do not have to demobilise workforces.”
“A key priority will be to reduce the backlog of 66,000 premises passed by the NBN fibre network which cannot currently obtain a service. This includes the majority of apartments, schools and businesses in areas where the fibre network has been rolled out.”
The NBN audit will last 60 days, commencing after a new NBN Co board is chosen, Turnbull said. After the review, the Coalition government will issue revisions to the timing of the rollout. Changes to the board will be announced after the next cabinet meeting, he said.
“It is our goal ... to see the NBN Co set realistic rollout targets and then consistently deliver on them.”
“The goal of the strategic review is ... to ascertain what it will really cost in dollars and what it will really take in years and months to complete the project on the current specifications, and then to assess what options there are to reduce that cost and time by using different techniques, different technologies.”
NBN Co will have to provide published weekly progress reports, he said. “I’m not interested in being given information that people may think will conform to my particular political agenda.”
“We want from NBN Co nothing more or less than the plain, unvarnished facts.”
Turnbull said he’s already had preliminary talks with Telstra about getting access to its copper network. Discussions will start “in earnest” after a new NBN Co board is chosen, he said.
Turnbull confirmed that he had requested the resignation of the existing NBN Co board members.
“That request should not be regarded as any criticism of any of the directors,” he said. “The reason for that was simply to give the government complete flexibility in remaking the board in light of its new policy agenda.”
While Turnbull said NBN Co will trial the latest VDSL technology during the review, he said he has not committed to any one broadband technology.
“I am, and the government is, thoroughly open-minded,” he said.
“We are not dogmatic about technology. Technology is not an ideological issue. We are completely agnostic about it. What we want to do is get the best result for taxpayers and consumers as soon as possible.”
The Competitive Carriers’ Coalition chairman Matt Healy praised the interim plan for the NBN, saying it’s “positive for service providers and consumers because customers will continue to be connected to super fast broadband.”
“There had been concerns amongst competitive carriers that the incoming Government would stop the current rollout while it undertook reviews – today’s announcement makes clear that current progress will continue so that more and more Australian’s can experience the benefit of super-fast high-speed broadband.”
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