NBN HFC scaled down to stave off financial disaster

Net-builder hopes to raise AU$19 BEEELLION in debt by 2020; AFP leashed again

Australian $20 burning

DOCSIS 3.1 might one day give gigabit to HFC customers on the National Broadband Network, but not to as many customers as promised: nbnTM is scaling back the number of customers connecting on the former Telstra and Optus networks.

With Canberra's equity contribution coming to an end this year, the company's decided the cable broadband connections are too expensive and has shifted between 800,000 and 1.5 million users to its fibre-to-the-node build.

In July, the company was still touting the gigabit capability of the networks (while at the same time repeating its oft-stated belief that most people don't need gigabit speeds).

Having budgeted around AU$1,800 per customer for an HFC connection, the company's found it costing $2,300 per punter.

That cost included repairs and upgrades being undertaken by Telstra and Optus on behalf of nbnTM, with more HFC nodes getting added to the networks to reduce contention on the network.

Telstra has a $1.6 billion contract to repair its HFC network (although this might fall with fewer customers to get a cable connection).

As a result of problems with the Optus network, nbnTM CEO Bill Morrow told a Senate committee in March that network (bought at a cost of $800 million) won't support the 500,000 customers originally expected.

The government's response so far is to issue the company with a new ministerial statement of expectations.

The company has also shifted around 400,000 premises off its fibre-to-the-premises plans: those households will also get FTTN connections.

With the nbnTM corporate plan promising nearly 4.8 million premises will be able to access gigabit speeds, it seems there'll be between 1.6 million and 2 million premises on fibre-to-the-basement or fibre-to-the-distribution-point services (the latter technology only in the very earliest stages of trial).

The corporate plan puts the number of businesses to receive NBN connections at “10 per cent of the final footprint” – around 1.2 million.

Announcing the nbnTM annual results on August 16, Morrow said no decision had been made about how to fund the network's completion once the government signed its last cheque.

The corporate plan states that to finish the network, the company will need to raise a total of $19.1 billion in debt funding by 2020.

NBN raid saga rolls on

In other NBN news, the Labor party has once again formalised its claim of parliamentary privilege over around 1,800 documents seized (well: found on an e-mail server, printed out and handed to the clerk of the Senate for safe-keeping) by the Australian Federal Police in its ongoing leak investigation.

The AFP has been sooled onto former communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy, former opposition communications spokesperson Jason Clare, members of their staff, and unnamed (now ex) nbnTM staffers believed to have printed out internal documents and passed them onto Conroy.

The plods started their investigation in December 2015, but inexplicably didn't go knocking down on doors until during the election campaign.

The latest claim of privilege arose from last week's almost unprecedented raid on parliament. ®




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