Labor outlines NBN future plans

James Riley
Editorial Director

Federal Labor has earmarked $125 million toward an NBN quick-fix for up to 750,000 customers with poor in-home cabling, and a further $60 million to conduct fibre-upgrade trials that could provide a medium-term path to improving the NBN for FTTN customers.

But shadow communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland has ruled out a large-scale, network wide upgrade for the National Broadband Network, saying a future Labor government would “acknowledge there are realities we cannot undo” and would “try to make the best of the NBN and position it for the future.”

Speaking at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney on Tuesday, Ms Rowland said Labor would seek to address reliability and performance issues of the copper-based fibre-to-the-node network, directing NBN Co to work with retail providers to provide an in-home wiring fix at no cost to consumers.

Michelle Rowland: Labor would conduct a full economic and technical study of the NBN Co business

The program would be funded through a $125 million increase in peak funding to the NBN Co and could benefit as many as 750,000 households which had been identified as having wiring problems by the company.

Ms Rowland said Labor had specifically targeted FTTN issues, not least because there are currently 183,000 premises on the Fibre to the Node network who are currently not able to achieve minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second.

On the current trajectory, this number could grow to 230,000 as the rollout nears completion, she said.

“Some will ask why Labor is taking steps to patch up problems with the copper network it has so vigorously attacked over the past six years. The simple fact is that our priority is improving consumer experience,” Ms Rowland said.

“Of the proposals we have examined over the past 18 months, addressing in-home cabling stood out as the most pragmatic and cost-effective option to deliver near-term improvements to reliability and speed.”

A Shorten government would conduct a financial and technical review of the NBN Co, with a particular focus on an assessment of cash-flow, to get a realistic longer term view of pathways for the future of the network, and how that can be funded.

As a first step however, Ms Rowland said Labor would provide a capped $60 million for a limited upgrade trial of to validate costs and assess the feasibility of co-investment mechanisms to deliver more fibre over the medium term.

“These upgrade trials will focus on the Fibre to the Node footprint, and will used to test new methods and construction practices to reduce costs,” Ms Rowland said.

“The number of homes will be quite modest – estimated at 20,000 or less – but sufficient to provide reliable data.

“This body of work will be supported by an NBN Co led geospatial study to identify where the most under-performing clusters of the copper network are located.”

The economic analysis of the NBN Co and its roll-out would form the basis of future technical decisions, and would include an investigation of the health of the market and the smaller retail players within it.

“Labor will conduct an immediate review of the economics of the NBN. We will ensure we have good quality analysis and advice, in order to assess the costs and trade-offs of different options going forward,” Ms Rowland said.

“The review will examine the implications of the multi-technology mix on NBNCo’s long-term cash flow position, capital structure, pricing evolution, options to grow revenue, options to reduce cost, and the capacity of NBNCo to co-invest in future infrastructure upgrades under a range of market scenarios,” she said.

“Naturally this is a big and complex exercise – and arguably the most critical piece of work in the NBN policy in terms of future direction.”

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