Senator Stephen Conroy during a Senate hearing with NBN Co at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 11 December 2013. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
NBN Co has not conducted any trials of the alternative national broadband network since the change of government, executives told a senate select committee on Wednesday morning.
Nor has NBN Co received detailed information from Telstra about its own fibre-to-the-node trial or the condition of its copper network, despite the fibre-to-the-node model relying on copper to deliver broadband to premises.
NBN Co and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull are expected to release a review of NBN Co on Thursday morning, including audits of the company’s financial history and strategy.
At a four-hour hearing on Wednesday morning four NBN Co witnesses were questioned by the Senate Select Committee overseeing the NBN project.
NBN Co’s chief operating officer, Greg Adcock, said fibre-to-the-node trials were ‘‘under discussion’’, but had not started. The trials would look at how much of Telstra’s copper would need to be remediated and how a rollout would occur.
‘‘The trial is going to have a look at a number issues and one will be to help develop the assumption set under which the copper network will be characterised,’’ Mr Adcock told the committee.
The committee was chaired by former Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, who dominated the questioning, referred to documents that were not publicly available, and often pointed fingers at witnesses. Senator Conroy established NBN Co while in government to deliver broadband to more than 90 per cent of Australian premises using a fibre-to-the-premises model. However, the new government come into office with plans to alter this rollout so most premises would receive a broadband upgrade on their existing copper connection rather than a new fibre optic connection.
NBN Co’s head of corporate and commercial Kevin Brown, chief marketing officer Kieran Cooney, and chief technology officer Gary McLaren also appeared before the committee. However, head of strategy and transformation at NBN Co, JB Rousselot, and chief financial officer Robin Payne were not present because they were finalising the strategic review, despite being ordered to attend by the Senate.
NBN Co confirmed its board reviewed and approved the draft strategic review document before it was delivered to Mr Turnbull’s office on December 2.
‘‘There was feedback [from the Minister’s office] on quite a substantive document, and so there is a lot of issues that you have to clarify in terms of calculations, logic etc. But there has been a subsequent board meeting of NBN Co this week to further go over the document. And as a consequence of that there is some additional work, as happens with these documents,’’ Mr Brown said.
Meanwhile, general manager of the competition watchdog’s communications branch, Michael Cosgrave, confirmed it would have to review the regulations surrounding the NBN if the model changed substantially.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was on the cusp of finalising NBN Co’s regulatory arrangements following two years of consultations.
‘‘If there was going to be substantial FTTN rollout there would be a need for changes and subsequent approval process for a revised migration plan,’’ Mr Cosgrave said.
And the Department of Communications confirmed it had received ''spatial representations of all broadband networks'' in Australia from telcos as part of its inquiry into broadband availability and quality. It had also received 'DSL port availability' information from Telstra Wholesale, which indicates how many households could buy ADSL from Telstra's competitors in the future.
"This is not a house by house engineering analysis. The intent is to identify under served areas in order to inform the prioritsation of the completion of the [NBN] roll out,'' the departmental secretary Drew Clarke told the committee.
"We are using the information to characterise broadband available and quality, area by area.''