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Australia won't prescribe its national broadband network a high-fibre diet

Nobody gets 100 Mbps, so nobody buys 100 Mbps, so nobody needs 100 Mbps. QED

By Richard Chirgwin

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Australia's federal government yesterday tabled its response to recommendations put by the parliamentary committee on the National Broadband Network, and has mostly rejected its recommendations.

The response sees the government refuse to mandate that nbn™, the builder and operator of the NBN, increase the use of fibre to the premises or to the curb, as called for in the Committee's first report.

Other rejected recommendations included establishing rural/regional consultation bodies, publishing data on which areas of the NBN were downgraded from fixed line or fixed wireless to the SkyMuster satellite, benchmarking SkyMuster's download limits against fixed services and providing service guarantees for SMBs. Also rejected were the idea of a government mandate that nbn™ outline consumer dispute resolution processes, plus a requirement that nbn™ advise the committee about “engagement, training, coordination and dispute resolution with subcontractors”.

The committee had also suggested look at modelling its customer connection and handover processes used by New Zealand carrier Chorus. As noted in the committee's report, that's a three-stage process that starts with a scoping visit, after which external works are carried out, and ending with an internal build visit to complete the connection. This was rejected by the government on the ground that the NBN scale and timeframe would make such an involved customer connection process unwieldy.

While the government won't impose a mandate on the medium used to deliver broadband services, it noted that nbn™'s discretion in network rollout could have that result anyhow: “the Government considers that nbn™ has the expertise to make decisions about how best to roll out the NBN, and there is value in allowing the experts to use their discretion to choose the most appropriate technology to ensure the network is rolled out as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

The release of the response came on the same day that nbn™ stated that more than three-quarters of FTTN premises won't ever receive 100 Mbps.

News of the speed crimp will be controversial given that the Australian Competition and Consumer Comission (ACCC) last year launched action against Telstra, Optus and TPG for advertising speeds they couldn't deliver. nbn™itself put HFC connections on ice to carry out further remediation on the formerly-Telstra infrastructure, becuase it was producing more faults and lower speeds than it deemed acceptable.

Interestingly, in spite of repeated statements by the ACCC (during its advertising actions) that fibre-to-the-basement services were frequently unable to hit the top speed, nbn™ told the parliamentary committee 100 per cent of FTTB services could get the top speed, as can HFC customers.

Vulture South has asked the ACCC whether it has any comment to make regarding the apparent discrepancy between its view of FTTB and that of nbn™.

While the government didn't unconditionally accept any of the report's recommendations, it provided “in principle” support for matters like an NBN audit, clarity about advertised speed claims, reform of how nbn™ handles premises in the controversial "Service Class Zero", a separate class of SkyMuster services for businesses, further overhaul of wholesale services, and various consumer protection mechanisms.

In most cases, recommendations received “in principle” support because the government claimed they represented activities already under way. ®

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