More info on NBN needed: Govt Joint Committee

Detailed account of the rollout, as well as impacts on timing and cost of the NBN, required

NBN Co and the Federal Government must do more to keep Australians and the telecommunications industry more informed on the progress of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and its consequence, the Joint Committee on the NBN has concluded.

See more on the National Broadband Network (NBN).

In its Review of the Rollout of the NBN First Report (PDF), tabled in parliament the committee put forward five recommendations aimed at improving information flow to industry and the public.

The first recommendation argued that NBN Co, together with the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, should provide a six-monthly report on the progress of the NBN rollout.

NBN Co should also publish a detailed account of impacts on timing and cost of the NBN as its deals with Telstra and Optus, and as a result of the decision to increase the number of points of interconnect (PoI) from 14 to 121.

NBN Co’s deal with Telstra was thrown into doubt this week, with the ACCC saying it cannot accept the telco’s structural separation undertaking in its current form.

The report said NBN Co should also publish timeframes for the rollout of NBN services to regional and remote areas, investigate the impact of the transition to the NBN on currently available levels of service for satellite technology, and formulate contingency plans against potential reduction of capacity in regional and remote areas as a consequence of the NBN rollout.

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy should also publish a detailed statement outlining the productivity, jobs and competitive benefits of the NBN, how markets will operate at the wholesale and retail levels under the NBN, and the effect on wholesale and retail competition of the expansion of the PoI.

Government agencies should also take measures to ensure they are ready for the NBN rollout.

The report — which comes hot on the heels of Townsville becoming the first Queensland location to be connected to the network — also argued that more needed to be done to communicate to the public that that the NBN will be sold off, rather than remain a public liability and debt.

“Many Australians are under the misconception that NBN Co is building a government-owned monopoly to own and run the wholesale platform at taxpayers’ expense, indefinitely, with no return to the government on its very large initial capital expenditure,” the report reads.

“This is an incorrect assessment of what the final product will look like, and what the true return to the taxpayer really is.

“The end product will, more than likely, be a privately-owned and operated wholesale platform, with a return on revenue through engagement with retail providers as the platform is built, and then the opportunity for a significant private sale once the NBN is complete.”

As a consequence, the report argued, the question of when and how private equity and finance will be engaged in the wholesale platform, and at what financial return to government, and ultimately taxpayers, needed to be answered.

“The political debate is obscuring the fact that what is being built will be an asset on the financial books of the taxpayer,” the report reads.

“And as with all assets — everything from a house to a business investment — if it is built efficiently and effectively, and if private equity is engaged in the right way at the right time, an initial spend can lead to a much larger return in the future.”

As a result, the committee would seek to satisfy itself about the government’s view of where the points of entry are for private investment alongside public investment, and to make sure maximum return on the government’s investment is secured on behalf of Australian taxpayers in its next report.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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