Communications issues bane of NBN existence

Just who will take care of informing consumers about the NBN remains unknown

Continued discussion over who should gain responsibility for primary communication of the National Broadband Network (NBN) to end-users has continued to mount as industry, communities and network wholesaler come to grips with their respective roles in the process.

Several groups have increasingly moved to educate consumers on the $36 billion, with advocacy group ACCAN and industry body Communications Alliance both making moves to disseminate information through retail service providers and directly to consumers.

While the Federal Government has so far supported these moves, it has indicated attempts to more aggressively educate the public about the network of its volition, with expectations it will allocate specific funding to that effect for use by government and NBN Co in the upcoming budget.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy also spent more than $250,000 recently contracting public relations firm, Weber Shandwick, for consultation on an NBN information campaigns.

In a submission to the Parliamentary inquiry on the potential role and benefit of the NBN, Communications Alliance chief executive, John Stanton, called for an industry-based public information campaign that would mirror the digital switchover taskforce in government funding and remit.

The taskforce was handed $60 million to educate the public about the switch from analogue television to digital.

Appearing before the inquiry, Stanton argued that a campaign lead primarily by the service providers rather than government bodies would provide a more apt fix to the information problems faced by consumers around the rollout of the network.

“If the NBN Co campaign is well-funded and well-coordinated, then it’s a possible fix,” he said.

“My concern is not to see NBN Co get saddled with the entire responsibility for this when really their responsibility is to the very ends of the network boundary point.”

The concern has been echoed by NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, who was wary of the potential to overstep the boundary between communicating with retail service providers - who would ultimately provide end-user services - and directly with the end-users themselves.

Quigley told the hearing that the wholesaler was moving to its “execution phase” following approximately 18 months of planning and design for the network.

As a result, it would move its information campaign from the letter drops and community consultations utilised in the first Tasmanian and mainland release sites, to more streamlined communication methods such as wider information campaigns by Web and a standard model of communication with local councils as the wholesaler ramps up to pass more than 6000 homes a day at the peak of construction.

The standard council model is also likely to provide clearer information as the network is rolled out, after some councils used the recent parliamentary hearings to decry a lack of communication between themselves and NBN Co.

However, Quigley said the wholesaler would have to continue to maintain a “balance” between supplying information and not circumventing retail service providers.

“One could argue an infrastructure company such as ourselves shouldn’t be involved in such [communication],” he said.

“Our job we see as enabling our potential customers - retail services providers - to the greatest extent possible, and trying to help them to promote applications to end-users.

“We have to respect the relationship we have with retail service providers and we don’t have a relationship with end-users.”

Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, recently told Computerworld Australia of the need for NBN Co to become more than “plumbers”.

Despite Stanton’s consternation about a bureaucracy-led information campaign, Communications Alliance has continued to advise NBN Co on wider education schemes and recently formed a working group led by Optus general manager of government and corporate affairs, Claire Gill, to foster industry discussion on the issue.

However, the body’s focus primarily has been on developing a uniform messaging platform for retail service providers to use when communicating directly with end-users.

Nevertheless, service providers are yet to clarify which foundation - if any - they will use in their own communication strategies.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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