Expert panel member defends NBN tender process

A member of the NBN expert panel has accused the auditor general of inaccuracies in its report about the abandoned NBN tender process

A member of the expert panel that evaluated bids in the abandoned National Broadband Network (NBN) request for proposal (RFP) process has hit-back at an auditor-generals report.

Released yesterday, the report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) said the RFP process cost it and participants more than $30 million.

The audit noted that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) advised the department that FTTN was "not a stepping stone towards FTTP" (fibre-to-the-premises).

However ex-panel member, Professor Emeritus in Telecommunications at the University of Adelaide, Reg Coutts, said the ANAO report wasn’t "very well informed", and that the unsolicited ACCC report, provided during the tender process, didn’t provide the expert panel with any new information.

“The ACCC made some explicit comments with regard to whether FTTN was considered a transition to FTTP,” he said.

“They advised us of their view really at about the same time we were coming to the same conclusion - this is where I think the auditor-general got it wrong.

“The ACCC didn’t provide us with advice that was news to us.”

Coutts defended the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s (DBCDE) decision to undertake the tender process when it did, saying it didn’t have the information to do it any other way.

“That’s why there was the embarking of such a process, to actually get the perspective of potential people who would build such a thing,” he said.

Coutts did agree with the audit report, where it stated that as the RFP period progressed, it became less likely of a successful outcome. He said that was largely contributed to by the global financial crisis (GFC).

“The RFP process was at times seen as bold but I think we can in a strange way be thankful to a whole number of events, including the GFC, that actually gave the government the courage to make what I believe was the right decision,” he said.

“We’ve embarked in the right direction, so let’s get on with it, because I think we’re on an excellent path.”

In April last year, the Federal Government dropped the FTTN plan and said it would establish a new public company - NBN Co - to build the next-generation fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

The Opposition has used the report findings to accuse the Government of wasting money on the tender process, a claim denied by communications minister Stephen Conroy.

"Let's be very clear. When we commenced the tendering process, the economy was booming and Telstra said they were participating," he told ABC radio.

Then the global financial crisis hit, he said.

Crossbench senators have demanded documents relating to the abandoned RFP be released publicly.

Additional reporting by AAP.

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