Who's to blame for the NBN? Hardly anyone remembers, or cares

Vulture South wraps the week's news of Australia's National Broadband Network

NBN WEEK Welcome to NBN Week, Reg Australia's new weekly roundup of the endless news of the nation's National Broadband Network.

Last week we reported the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched an inquiry into the NBN's wholesale services. The irony of that decision is that it came just one day after a government MP issued a Facebook challenge to “find me one new unhappy customer”, but as ironies go it's a treat.

Queensland Liberal National MP Andrew Laming set off World+Dog with his Facebook post. Local newspaper Redland City Bulletin went along with the game and copped its own rinsing.

As one responder put it, “Hard to find any unhappy NBN customers in the Redlands (because there is hardly any people with NBN in the Redlands)”.

Malone mouths off

It's been a week for people getting lippy about the NBN, but perhaps the most notable – certainly the highest-profile – was non-executive nbn™ director Michael Malone.

The founder of iiNet kicked off with a rant to Fairfax Media about people who complain about being too long on the “Service Class Zero” list. Such ingrates should, he said, go to the back of the connection queue.

Service Class Zero means a premises is “passed” by the NBN infrastructure build, but can't be connected. It's a limbo that drives customers to distraction, since they end up with no fixed service whatever.

If Malone was abashed at all by the fury that greeted his suggestion, he didn't show it, Fairfax's Ben Grubb took another call from him, this time with retail service providers on his mind.

Retailers have to make a knotty trade-off between performance and profit, because NBN Connectivity Virtual Circuits are charged on per-megabit-per-second-per-month basis. Buy too little, and the service gets congested; too much, and everyone else undercuts you.

Badly-performed retail services, Malone said, exist only because retailers don't give a f*ck care.

ACCC critiques NBN commercial model

Wholesale service regulation wasn't the only contribution the Australian Competition and Consumer Commision made to the NBN discussion: in an extensive report into the communications market, it critiques the NBN commercial model.

The idea that the network should recover a commercial return was built into its business model from the very beginning, to keep the investment from adding to the federal government's budget deficit. The ACCC suggested that requirement be abandoned, or that the government provide direct subsidy for unprofitable connections (to relieve the need for nbn™ to lift its Average Revenue Per User from AU$43 per month to more than $50 per month); or simply write down the value of some of its asset base, to allow the company to cut its wholesale prices.

Reactions to the ACCC paper were muted, but the Australian Greens told the Australian Financial Review they backed the write-down idea, but without broader support, that's not likely to fly.

Whose fault? Who cares?

Polling company Essential Research included NBN questions in its regular political poll, and it seems that the former ALP-led government that instituted the NBN is too distant a memory to shoulder blame for the mess.

Or perhaps it's just punters don't know what's going on, since 42 per cent of Essential's sample put themselves in the “don't know” camp; 39 per cent blame the current government, and only 19 per cent remember ex-senator Stephen Conroy enough to blame him, Essential's report said. ®




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