The Australian government has said it will not overhaul the National Broadband Network (NBN) to install more fibre, despite the company rolling out the NBN revealing that less than a quarter of people on the fibre-to-the-node model will be able to order the top speed package.
In October a parliamentary committee recommended the government-owned company responsible for delivering the NBN drop the controversial fibre-to-the-node technology used for most premises, in favour of newer fibre-to-the-curb technology that allows higher speeds.
Currently NBN Co is only planning to connect one million out of the 12 million premises in Australia to this type of technology.
In a response released this week, the government rejected the request, stating it remains committed to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's vision of a "multi-technology mix": "[NBN Co] has the expertise to make decisions about how best to roll out the NBN, and there is value in allowing experts to use their discretion to choose the most appropriate technology to ensure the network is rolled out as quickly and cost-effectively as possible."
Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland said that the government was "arrogant" to dismiss the proposal.
"This was an opportunity to find some middle ground," she said in a statement.
"The response to the committee makes clear Malcolm Turnbull is not interested in solutions, he simply wants to sit back and watch the experience of consumers and the competitiveness of our digital economy languish under his second-rate copper NBN."
In response to a question on notice from Senate Estimates, NBN Co also revealed that just 24% of users on a fibre-to-the-node connection to the NBN will be able to obtain the top 100Mbps (megabits-per-second) download speed when the rollout is completed.
According to modelling released in May, 32% of FttN users can achieve the top download speeds today.
At the end of the rollout, more NBN users (4.6 million out of 11.7 million) will connect via fibre-to-the-node and fibre-to-the-building than any other connection type.
Those on fibre-to-the-building will be able to achieve higher speeds than those on FttN because there is much less copper in use.
However the majority of NBN users will be able to access 100Mbps speeds, with slightly over six million premises able to order a service with 100Mbps speeds in 2021.
At the end of last year NBN Co announced it would reduce the capacity fee it charges to internet service providers in order to supply guaranteed bandwidth. This is designed to alleviate some of the complaints from NBN users who say they aren't getting the speeds promised to them.
The ACCC is also cracking down on internet service providers advertising plans to customers for speeds they can't access on their service. Telstra, Optus and TPG have already agreed to compensate customers for misleading advertising about NBN products.
The government, in its response to the parliamentary committee this week, expressed frustration that the committee examining the NBN wasn't highlighting the rollout's "good news", and was entirely focused on the negative.
"The government trusts that the committee will give the industry and [NBN Co] the time it needs to make ongoing improvements, and that subsequent committee reports will give equal space to NBN's success stories as it has given in its first report to the challenges that are inevitable in such a major and complex infrastructure project."
Labor has not yet announced what a Shorten Labor government would do with the NBN after the next election, aside from short-on-detail claims of "more fibre". Part of the issue is NBN's precarious financial model. The cost of the project remains outside of the government's budget bottom line only as long as it is still considered an asset, and the government is making a return on that asset.
Any significant change in the rollout of the NBN, including changing its technology or pricing model, risks the financial return on the NBN and potentially a budget headache for whichever government happens to be in power at the time.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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