After the September 2013 election in Australia, and with a new government in charge, a number of reviews were announced that will shape the future direction of the NBN. For a start, the Minister asked NBN Co to carry out its own review first, based on the original specifications of the NBN – it being a majority FttP rollout.
This indicates that at a strategic level the NBN will most likely continue fairly smoothly. There will most certainly be changes made to the rollout but these could quite possibly be implemented by NBN Co itself, now that it has largely been relieved of the political pressure under which it had to operate during the period of severe attacks by the then Opposition, which started off with a policy to kill the NBN. At this stage at least the NBN now has bipartisan support.
Also, because of the likely continuation of the NBN many of the issues discussed below remain unchanged, and so will require the attention of the government, and/or will need to be taken into account in future policy developments. BuddeComm has already indicated support for certain changes to the NBN in relation to greenfield developments and multi-dwelling units (MDUs) and these issues will now receive significantly more attention than they have had in the past. Again, the comments and analyses made on these issues remain relevant under the new government.
The rollout has seen delays, but at this stage there are no indications that this will affect the longer-term outlook for completion of the project. The review will obviously shed more light on this, but so far the issues seem to be more one-off and/or resolvable – for instance, by being more flexible in the use of technology, for example in MDUs.
A serious omission remains – that there is no policy or information that takes into account the importance of the NBN for the digital economy, the opportunity to use it to increase digital productivity, and where this infrastructure fits in relation to e-business, e-health and e-education.
There is still a misalignment between the social and economic benefits of the NBN and NBN Co’s business plan. The new government wants to prioritise the underserved areas and is looking at other technologies to create some early wins. The question, however, is how much can be changed at this late stage – and also whether it will really lower costs and speed up the rollout.
Australia is highly reliant on its income from natural resources and, like other resource-rich countries, it needs to diversify its economy. Interestingly, it is these resource-rich countries that are leading the rollout of FttP around the world. The main reason for those governments becoming involved in digital infrastructure is to increase their country’s competitiveness and productivity in areas other than resources.
Companies covered in this report include:
NBN Co; Telekom Deutschland; Belgacom; Telekom Austria; Fastweb; Swisscom; Strata Community Australia (SCA); Telstra; Optus; AusBBS; iiNet; Internode; TPG; and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.