Government holds back independent NBN Co plan review

Proceed with caution on the NBN, says independent firm

The Federal Government has released the executive summary of an independent review into NBN Co’s 30-year business plan, but has held back its full release over concerns with confidentiality.

The review, authored by Greenhill Caliburn at the request of the Department of Finance and Regulation, inspected the 400-page business plan submitted to the government by National Broadband Network wholesaler NBN Co and released publicly in redacted form in December 2010.

Both finance minister, Senator Penny Wong, and communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, refused to detail whether the independent review would be released in November last year.

“The report contains commercially sensitive information and cannot be released,” a spokesperson for Senator Conroy confirmed today in an email.

The government instead released an eight-page executive summary of the report, in which the corporate consultants welcomed the business plan as a “reasonable basis” for the $27 billion publicly funded project, but urged the Federal Government to proceed with caution and extensive oversight frameworks.

The review, which inspected many of the assumptions NBN Co’s corporate plan was based upon, suggested the Federal Government establish an investment committee of experts to closely monitor NBN Co, with the wholesaler providing annual, quarterly or event-based reports on financial and operational performance to prevent risks in the early phases of the project.

“An ongoing review policy would be in-line with the approach of many professional investors, who closely monitor and analyse companies in which they have material investments rather than relying solely on standard periodic reporting,” the report’s executive summary reads.

“The objective is to ensure the Commonwealth receives regular updates so that it is at all times aware of NBN Co’s performance relative to the original and latest agreed Corporate Plan, as well as NBN Co’s views on the immediacy and relative impact of the risks that NBN Co is managing as it develops and manages the NBN. “

The committee would also independently monitor changes in regulatory protections for the wholesaler, including agreements with Telstra, passing of legislation and measures against “cherry picking” by competing fibre operators.

NBN Co itself was urged by Greenhill Caliburn to continually monitor uptake of mobile and wireless technologies among Australians, which was suggested to be a potential risk to uptake of NBN services in the future.

Though posed as an extensive review of NBN Co’s forward assumptions, Greenhill Caliburn’s report stressed the corporate consultants were not contracted to produce a review of policy objectives for the project or a cost-benefit analysis of the project.

Economist Dr Henry Ergas suggested at a Senate select committee last year that full disclosure of NBN Co’s assumptions could provide enough information produce a cost-benefit analysis of the project in three days.

The Greens and coalition intend to oppose the cherry picking legislation in particular, with additional pressure placed on NBN Co’s exclusion from Freedom of Information laws, preventing full disclosure of reports on the project, including the independent review released this week.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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