Don't hold your breath for the NBN implementation study

NBN Co making network design decisions and is not waiting for the implementation study to be completed

It is scheduled to be handed over to the Government in February next year, but by then the National Broadband Network (NBN) implementation study's findings will have already become a moot point.

Why? Because the company responsible for rolling out the NBN is forging ahead with the project. It is not waiting for the report; it is already making decisions on the network rollout.

Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, announced McKinsey and KPMG would become joint lead advisors on the NBN Implementation Study in August.

The advisors will provide advice on the NBN, "including operating and governance arrangements for NBN Co Limited, ownership caps, ways to attract private sector investment, network design and ways to provide procurement opportunities for local businesses".

The implementation study is supposed to result in a report due in February 2010 and the advisors have provided policy advice to both the Government and NBN Co. Rightly or wrongly, many assumed it would be completed first and act as a guide for how the NBN would proceed.

It is understood NBN Co, however, is already investigating the design and technical aspects of the proposed fibre-to-the-home (FttH) network, as the implementation study team do not have the relevant telecommunications experience or knowledge.

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And they are already making decisions on the NBN internally prior to the implementation study's completion and release. Plus, they have approval to make asset purchases, such as those owned by Telstra and others.

NBN Co is working with the KPMG and McKinsey team on a frequent basis and gathering a range of industry views on how to proceed, but it views the expected implementation study report as a document for government consumption and not as a guide that will inform its own decisions.

The Federal Government is also looking to submit its Telstra separation bill by the end of the year — a couple of months ahead of the implementation study due date.

So one has to ask the question: Why continue the expensive tax-payer funded report charade? It's not like the Gershon Report, where decisions were made and action taken after submission.

The report’s conclusions will be moot unless the Government wants to take the expensive step of rolling back the work already started by NBN Co.

But maybe that is what they want — everything to be underway and the NBN to be a fait accompli by the time the report is submitted, with no annoying public or media oversight.

And for those who thought the implementation study would provide a basis from which to debate the merits of different roll out paths, don't hold your breath. Those choices will most likely have already been made. According to the Department of Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy, we may not even get to see the report, despite having budgeted more than $50 million for it.

As far as moot points go, that is a pricey one.

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