Two sides to every story

Late Friday afternoon we were approached by a journalist seeking a response to what he claimed were the "confidential results of a pilot study" undertaken by NBN Co in an area containing 2484 homes and businesses in Melton in Victoria.

This 'study', the reporter informed us, purported to show that the old all-fibre NBN could be rolled out in its entirety much sooner and far less expensively than had previously been envisaged. The implication of all this was that, if this study was true, then it was unnecessary to have to transition the NBN to the multi-technology mix.

The story duly appeared in Fairfax publications the following morning and it was carried widely on social media. Except there was one small problem: the work underway in Melton delivered no such conclusions.

The efficiencies that our construction crews had applied to construction in Melton - such as smaller diameter cables and smaller multiports (or splitters) - are already being employed in the NBN build across Australia. This is what happens as we refine our processes and find improvements.

What's more, the area of rollout in Melton had some unique characteristics that inevitably would have brought down the cost of the build there relative to the project as a whole. For instance, it's well known that it is costly and time consuming to deliver the fibre NBN to office blocks and apartments. Entire buildings have to be rewired. Yet in this particular part of Melton there are fewer than 25 tall buildings (or "multi dwelling units" in NBN jargon).

Further, our construction crews tell us there have been rollouts elsewhere in Victoria which cost less per premises and which have suffered fewer defects and had fewer design variations.

So the claims being made in the Fairfax report – and extrapolated out to the entire NBN project – are based on work in a single area that is atypical and which is employing construction methods that are not unique, they are already widely in use. It also required more oversight and more resources than usual to make it a "success".

Astonishingly none of these rather salient facts made it in to the final article, which is not only inaccurate, it ignores the central purpose of the NBN.

While there will always be people who prefer technology-specific solutions, our job is to deliver affordable, fast broadband to as many Australians as we can as soon as possible. They don't want us spending more of their money than is necessary if it can be avoided.

The Government has given us the flexibility to use whatever approach will help us deliver on what is the right of every Australian regardless of location or financial status.

There is no question fibre remains an important part of the multi-technology mix. This hasn't changed. The current model is not about a singular technology, rather is about doing whatever it takes to get the NBN to you as quickly as possible with the least cost and the least disruption while meeting your technology needs.

We will continue to ramp up our efforts to deliver Australia's largest infrastructure project as quickly and efficiently as we can. And like any sensible business, we will continue to review our processes and apply best practice where we can. That's just common sense. It is something every taxpayer should expect of a project for which they are paying.

Of greater importance than any imagined review is that NBN Co, as set out in the Strategic Review, has an obligation to continue to identify efficiencies across all technology applications in order to meet our 2020 commitments within the agreed $29.5 billion funding envelope - reviewing and constantly refining our approach means we have the confidence we can do this. We will and must continue to find efficiencies be it for fibre-to-the-home, to-the-node, HFC or otherwise.

The absence of continual business reviews to drive efficiencies should call for headlines, rather than the implementation of such.

As with all things our job is only made harder when the media does not report accurately.


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