Senator Stephen Conroy has this morning pressed the Department of Communications to confirm that a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) scheme for the National Broadband Network would result in less revenue for the government.
At the first hearing of the new Senate Select Committee on the NBN, the department's deputy secretary, Ian Robinson, agreed that there could be a negative revenue impact if, for example, a customer wanted to pay to upgrade to a higher speed plan promised by Labor's NBN strategy, but could not do so because that plan no longer existed.
However, he said that the lower revenue might be balanced by the lower deployment costs of FTTN.
Conroy dismissed that point, saying, “There is no argument that providing inferior service can be done cheaper.”
The committee was established earlier this month on a joint motion by Labor Senator Kate Lundy and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. As a Senate committee, neither Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull nor Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare are able to sit on it.
Witnesses from the Departments of Communications said they would “take on notice” many of the questions asked by Conroy and Lundy, causing both senators to appear visibly frustrated at several moments during the hearing.
For example, Conroy could not get an answer to a question about whether wireless broadband is equally as substitute for fibre to the node and fibre to the premises.
“You’ve asked a difficult question,” said Robinson. He said he would take the question on notice and consult with staff.
But when Conroy repeatedly asked who Robinson planned to consult, the department official would not provide specific names of the staff.
Later, when Robinson took on notice a question by Lundy about a broadband constraint areas survey, she replied, “You just told me you have all the information and now you want to take it on notice. That is not good enough. We have an opportunity to do it today.”
Before the hearing began, Lundy revealed that the committee was struggling to get key NBN Co officials to appear before the senators.
“NBN Co personnel, including NBN Co's executive chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski; head of strategy and transformation Mr JB Rousselot; chief operating officer Mr Greg Adcock; chief technology officer Mr Gary McLaren; and chief financial officer Mr Robin Payne have been reluctant to attend the committee in person,” Lundy said in a statement.
“The committee is disappointed that NBN Co have taken this position.”
As a result, the committee has issued an order for the NBN Co officials to appear tomorrow.
“It is with regret that we have had to issue this summons, given the public commitment the government has made to openness and transparency in all matters relating to the NBN,” Lundy said.
NBN Co is currently conducting a 60-day review of the NBN that will analyse the progress and cost of the NBN rollout and NBN Co’s financial and operational status. The review is due for submission to the government for consideration by December 2.
NBN Co did not respond to a request for comment.
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