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NBN Co reports smaller-than-expected loss

And Telstra sues NBN Co over pit-access deal timing

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NBN Co, the company formerly tasked with building a national fibre-to-the-premises network for Australia, has delivered its 2013 financials.

It's no particular surprise that the organisation has reported a loss for 2012-2013, since its first forecast profit even under the former government's plan was to be delivered in 2019. The reported total loss for 2012-2013 is $AUD903 million, well short of the $AU1.3 billion loss predicted for the year.

Since the company's projected revenue fell marginally shy of expectations ($AU17 million instead of the forecast $AU18 million), it's reasonable to suggest that the reduced loss is at least in part due to a reduction in expenditure on construction activity.

Wireless and satellite services (with 36,514 active services) still have more end user connections than fibre (33,586), but the annual report claims that “end-users were ordering services at speeds higher than assumed in the current 2012-15 Corporate Plan. Positive trends have also been experienced with average speed provisioned across all Fibre end-users of 39 Mbps at 30 June 2013”.

The report notes that end-user performance may differ from “provisioned” average speed, since NBN Co can't see past the wholesale interface to individual end users. Even so, the average suggests the new government's plan to start at 25 Mbps for all falls short of what users will buy if they can get it.

The bulk of what remains in the annual report has to be read with an eye to the federal government's operational review, which will probably recommend a fundamental shift to the project, towards rolling out fibre-to-the-node rather than fibre-to-the-premises. With an uncanny ability to sniff the wind, vendors are hard at work trumpeting FTTN futures to the Australian media.

However, The Register notes that although there's been debate about metrics such as “premises passed” to describe the NBN rollout, outgoing CEO Mike Quigley's statement in the annual report claims that year-on-year, the June quarter activations of fibre connections to the transit network rose from 290 per day (2012) to more than 1,000 per day (2013).

Meanwhile, the Australian Financial Review is reporting that Telstra is suing NBN Co over the timing of the start of payments under its $AU11 billion deal with the incumbent for pit-and-duct access.

At issue is whether NBN Co should backdate its payments to 2011, when the deal was announced, or 2012, when Telstra shareholders ratified the agreement.

With only $AU100 million - or around one per cent of the total value of the deal - at stake, the action could be seen as indicative of the importance Telstra attaches to the deal, which the government hopes to renegotiate. ®

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