By NBN Co Chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Rue
By NBN Co Chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Rue
Construction of the nbn™ access network is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in our nation’s history, one that aims to lift Australia’s digital capability by fundamentally changing the way we learn, do business and connect with each other.
To date, NBN Co and its Delivery Partners have rolled out more than 280,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable across Australia, and re-purposed and upgraded existing Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) and copper technologies, bringing fast broadband at scale to many parts of metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
The company has built a Fixed Wireless network comprising some 2,200 towers and approximately 13,000 cells, providing coverage of approximately 250,000 square kilometres, as well as launching two satellites which overlook seven million square kilometres of this great continent.
Building this vast piece of critical network infrastructure has been a complex task. As we continue to improve the way we roll out the network and run the business, we must constantly balance a range of objectives for our company, the telecommunications industry, and the connectivity goals of our nation.
Firstly, we must meet the Statement of Expectations from the Federal Government to complete the build, connect Australian homes and businesses to this network, and deliver a high quality, fast broadband experience. We forecast to achieve a 3.2 per cent return on the Commonwealth’s investment of $29.5 billion.
Secondly, we need to work with the telecommunications industry to create the right conditions that will allow us all to thrive and prosper in the long term. For NBN Co, this means reaching a positive annual cash flow, anticipated to be from FY23, so we can continue to reinvest in our network, our business and our products as technology and customer needs change in the decade ahead.
And most importantly – we need to ensure that we deliver the best possible experience for customers once they are connected to services over the nbn™ access network and increasingly incorporate online experiences into their daily lives.
Ten years since the formation of the National Broadband Network was first announced, we can proudly say that we have made extraordinary progress, but with lots of heavy lifting still ahead, as we strive to meet these objectives.
Over the last 12 months we have seen improving customer service yield good results. We have improved the connection and service quality of our HFC network, scaled the rollout of our Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) network, launched wholesale products designed for businesses that are capable of delivering Gigabit speeds, and put in place better wholesale pricing options so more customers can experience higher speeds with reduced congestion during busy hours.
We have also continued to meet our construction targets with FY19 being the company’s single biggest year for build and activations. On 30 June 2019, almost 10 million homes and businesses were made Ready to Connect (RTC) with more than 5.5 million premises connecting to a service over the nbn™ access network. This produced record revenue of $2.8 billion in FY19. If NBN Co’s revenue continues to grow beyond $5 billion annually as forecast, it will underwrite our future investments into customer experience and a high-speed, resilient and secure network that can help enable Australia’s digital needs.
Of course, as we edge closer to making 11.5 million homes and businesses ready to connect by the end of June 2020, we know we still have much work to do.
These construction and operational objectives will always be critical to our success, and connecting homes and businesses as quickly and seamlessly as possible remains core to what we do. But providing access to quality and affordable services that our customers – the people living in Australian homes and working in Australian businesses – need and deserve will be what drives us through the next phase of our evolution.
Over the period of this Corporate Plan, we will continue to work in collaboration with our Retail Service providers (RSPs), the industry, regulators and the government to better understand customers’ needs and their experience with our services. We have made strong progress over the past financial year but recognise that there is always more to do to delight customers, address negative consumer sentiment, and in doing so enhance overall customer satisfaction.
Certain things are not completely within the control of NBN Co and require us to work closely with the telecommunications industry to help ensure that the products we deliver to the market meet the expectations of all Australians – from entry-level broadband customers to business enterprises. This we are committed to do, to produce the best possible customer experience we can.
We will also continue to focus on the future, to keep up with the latest technological trends and innovations to ensure our network can be enhanced and upgraded in a cost-effective and timely manner to meet the growing and diverse connectivity needs of Australian homes and businesses.
Driving this refreshed strategy with its focus on the customer will be a new purpose for NBN Co: to help lift the digital capability of Australia. This new purpose is about much more than simply connecting homes and businesses to a National Broadband Network. It’s about providing the platform and services that will give Australians – no matter where they live, work or seek to utilise critical services such as healthcare and education – the tools, skills and access to help unlock the economic and social benefits that fast broadband can deliver.
We know that to deliver on our purpose to help lift the digital capability of the nation, NBN Co must not only be sustainable and successful, but so too must our retail, industry and construction partners.
Building a thriving broadband ecosystem together can only be achieved by working closely with our industry partners – and this last year has given us proof of what that success looks like when we do that.
Together we have overcome major construction challenges, built fixed-line and Fixed Wireless networks in some of the hardest to reach corners of this nation, and balanced the nation’s needs for faster broadband with the needs of the internet and phone companies who retail our services to customers.
Improving customer experience requires an industry-wide, co-operative approach. At NBN Co we know what we need to do to achieve these goals but we cannot do it alone.
Over the next two years we will deepen our collaboration with retail service providers to better enable them to create great customer experiences and co-invest with them where we believe it to be beneficial, to improve broadband experience.
But we still have much work ahead of us.
We now face our busiest construction schedule, and we will tackle new challenges as we invest to upgrade capacity and performance on the Fixed Wireless network and confront some of the most complex and hard-to-connect homes and businesses across the nation.
There will inevitably be more challenges along the way, but we will meet these with confidence that our capable and dedicated team of thousands of internal and external staff are working to make this network the best it can be for Australians.
Social and economic benefits
While we continue to rise to these new challenges, we know the return for the nation is worth it.
Our purpose is to lift the digital capability of Australia by empowering communities in regional, rural, remote and metropolitan Australia with better connectivity. This remains a driving force for our people, our company and our partners who share this ambition.
We know from the Connecting Australia Report 2 that NBN Co is delivering on this purpose by making substantial social and economic differences to the lives of Australians. The report, commissioned by NBN Co, found that by the end of the roll-out in June 2020 the nbn™ access network is expected to be contributing more than $10 billion a year to the economy.
However there are also other benefits that the nbn™ access network is delivering today. We know from this research that in nbn™-connected areas the average rate of growth in digital economy jobs is outpacing the national average by a factor of five and that the number of self-employed women in these regions is growing at a rate 20 times faster than in non nbn™-connected areas.
The communities living in regional, rural and remote Australia are important stakeholders for ubiquitous high-speed broadband. Understanding this, NBN Co will increase its focus on those communities in the coming years. Our research estimates that the impact of the nbn™ access network will be to create up to 31,000 new jobs by 2021 with businesses able to thrive where they are established instead of moving to the city to access online markets. Furthermore, more regional, rural and remote Australians should have an opportunity to enrol in online education and training, helping to create opportunities for personal and career growth for young and old alike in an age where we know that lifelong learning is essential. Critical Australian industries such as agriculture and tourism are anticipated to benefit from enhanced productivity and expanded market opportunities through access to the high-speed broadband NBN Co provides.
These next few years will be critical for NBN Co. Businesses are judged on how they face and overcome challenges and we know that we face complex and unique challenges on a daily basis. Our ambition to make the customer central to everything we do will not be lessened by this reality, and we will be working harder than ever to help ensure all Australians who connect to services over the nbn™ access network have a positive experience. NBN Co will be central to helping uplift the digital capability of Australia and in doing so, providing greater economic and social opportunities for Australians.
On behalf of the Board, we would like to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of NBN Co’s people and our industry partners. Together we have stepped up to meet this unique engineering challenge and are now within sight of a critical goal – completing our network build.
We are well advanced in planning for ‘nbn™ 3.0’ when ubiquitous affordable access to high speed connectivity will further change and enhance our lives. We foresee truly exciting times ahead.
1 Regardless of the retail service you purchase, the actual wholesale speeds delivered by the nbn™ Enterprise Ethernet product will be less than 1000 Mbps due to equipment and network limitations. Your experience, including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ network, depends on some factors outside our control (like your equipment quality, software, and how your service provider designs its network). If your service provider has not selected a bandwidth in the highest of three classes of service available for nbn™ Enterprise Ethernet, the speeds you experience may be affected by contention on the nbn™ network, particularly in busy periods.
2 The Connecting Australia report was commissioned by NBN Co through independent research agency AlphaBeta in 2017. It combines national census data with an Ipsos survey of 3500 individuals across 1700 postcodes in metropolitan, regional and remote areas, including those connected to the nbn™ access network and those not connected.