By Grahame Lynch
The National Broadband Network has sailed past its FY2020 volume build completion target of 11.5 million premises one month early.
However, communications minister Paul Fletcher has been careful not to claim NBN Co is completely finished, noting that it is now “99 per cent built” and that there are still a small number of so-called complex connections to be fulfilled.
NBN Co’s corporate plan released in August last year set 11.5 million premises – the then estimate of the number of addressable premises in Australia – and June 30, 2020 as the network completion target.
But it added the caveat that this excluded a small proportion of premises defined as complex connections – which includes properties that are difficult to access, culturally significant areas and heritage sites – where connection depends on factors outside of NBN Co’s control such as permission from traditional owners.
Difficult-to-access sites include some airports and seaports, as well as some outlying islands and premises affected by recent natural disasters and in a reconstruction phase.
NBN Co estimated that these complex connections numbered about 100,000 when the corporate plan was released last year.
Additional premises can also fall within the NBN build remit, where they are belatedly deemed as being inadequately served by superfast broadband from alternate providers, because of its status as a network builder of last resort.
As of last week, some 60,000 yet-to-be-connected premises were within areas already deemed ready for service.
Fletcher noted in a statement issued this morning that the early achievement of the build target was “notwithstanding recent bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The resilience the NBN has shown in recent months, with more people working and studying at home, underlines the network’s strength and adaptability. The NBN has cemented its place as the nation’s digital backbone for productivity, connectivity and social cohesion.”
Fletcher said the NBN was a “failing project” with less than 50,000 connections when the government was elected in late 2013. “We committed to a turnaround with the NBN to be rolled out four years more quickly and for $30 billion less than under Labor’s plan and we have delivered.
“11.5 million premises are now able to connect, the volume rollout is 99 percent complete and almost 70 percent of NBN customers are on 50Mbps or higher plans.”
NBN Co aims to have 80 per cent of complex connections installed this calendar year and intends to maintain a residual build capacity to serve the greenfields market which numbers over 120,000 new dwellings per year.
There is also some protocol to be followed before the network can be declared complete.
The impending completion of the network has given rise to considerable speculation that the government will move quickly to privatise it.
But first, the Productivity Commission must conduct an inquiry into regulatory, budgetary, consumer and competition matters relating to the NBN, a Parliamentary Joint Committee must consider the findings of that report, the Minister for Finance must make a disallowable declaration that conditions are suitable to sell NBN and parliament cannot disallow that declaration.
Only then can the government sell down its equity.
Graeame Lynch is owner of Commsday, where this story first appeared.
Picture: NBN Co
Subscribe to our free @AuManufacturing newsletter here.