news A Freedom of Information request has been filed with the National Broadband Network Company seeking hard data regarding the progress in rolling out and uptake of the company’s network as at the end of 2012, as well as documents relating to the process of compiling the statistics.
Over the past several months, NBN Co has repeatedly declined to release hard statistics relating to the number of premises it completed rolling out its fibre network to to the end of 2012, as well as the number of active services using its network. The moves comes despite the fact that NBN Co had previously committed to releasing these data points quarterly, and despite the company releasing ‘soft’ rollout stats releasing to the number of premises it has issued order for construction to commence at.
However, an individual named ‘Paul Warren’ used the Right to Know website this week to file a Freedom of Information request seeking access to “any documents relating to the processes and policies for compiling and releasing” the quarterly construction statistics, as well as any documents that listed the completion status of NBN Co’s planned points of interconnect with its network, and finally, the premises passed and connected services statistics for the final quarter of 2012.
NBN Co’s FoI officer David Mesman has responded to the request, noting that under legislative requirements, NBN Co would need to make a determination in response to the request by 22 February.
Mesman added that while the normal statutory processing period for FoI requests was 30 days, the company may seek additional processing time and that some of the information Warren sought may be addressed by existing public documentation about NBN Co’s rollout, in particular with relation to the progress of NBN Co’s construction of its points of interconnect. “Please note that NBN Co publishes monthly statistics relating to POIs,” wrote Mesman, directing Warren to an NBN Co report about the issue on its web site.
Warren’s FoI request is not the first to be filed recently with NBN Co seeking updated rollout data regarding the company’s nationwide construction effort. In early December, for example, Delimiter filed a FoI request seeking updated rollout information on the company’s deployment as at 7 December.
Since that time, NBN Co has sought an extension of time to respond to the FoI request, stating that its office was shut down over the Christmas holiday period and that this and other factors meant that it would be unable to respond to the FoI request in the normal timeframe (which would have made the FoI request due on 10 January 2013). Instead, it is now planning to respond within a two month period – by 11 February.
“… the information requested falls outside of NBN Co’s normal reporting processes,” one of the company’s FoI officers wrote in an email to Delimiter seeking an extension to respond to the FoI request. “In that context, NBN Co staff are required to collect, review and – in particular – verify the above figures, which is a complex task.”
In further email communication, the FoI officer noted that to meet the FoI request, “NBN Co staff will need to collate and reconcile data from across various NBN Co databases”. They added: “This will take place over, roughly, the next month and it will take some time and planning, particularly for the formal reconciliation.”
Up until the latter quarter of last year, NBN Co was believed to have been making relatively slow progress on deploying its network, as it had primarily been in the planning stage of the deployment. However, subsequent to that period, the company was believed to have entered what it described as its rapid ramp-up phase, where it planned to have some 758,000 premises completed or commenced by the end of 2012.
NBN Co’s progress to the end of September appeared to show the company had not at that point started rapidly accelerating its network deployment, with the company at that stage only having passed slightly over 50,000 premises since it started deploying its network, and 179,790 satellite and fixed wireless premises. The company did not break up its satellite and wireless technologies into different figures, despite the fact that the technologies are completely unrelated in terms of NBN Co’s rollout.
In the quarter to 30 September this year, NBN Co only completely deployed fibre to a further 13,000 premises past where the network had previously been established — in the quarter to 30 June this year it had already reached 39,000. It had deployed 18,000 premises by 30 June 2011, the year previously.
NBN Co’s September statistics with respect to the number of premises it has active services at (where customers are actually using its network) similarly showed the company is making slow progress. At 30 September this year the company had just 6,358 fibre customers, and some 17,648 satellite and fixed wireless customers (again, here the company did not break up its satellite and wireless numbers). The company added only a few thousand active fibre services in the three months to 30 September.
The news comes the Coalition continues to sharply criticise NBN Co’s rollout speed on an ongoing basis, with Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull comparing the company’s speed to that of an “arthritic snail” and Liberal MP Paul Paul Fletcher recently describing it as a “costly failure”.
The extent to which NBN Co has rolled out its network by the time of the next Federal Election is expected to be a critical factor determining the overall future of the project. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has repeatedly indicated that he does not see value in the project and may halt or cancel it. Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a more moderate approach to the project; however, Turnbull currently prefers a more limited fibre to the node rollout, compared to the fibre to the home deployment under the current NBN model. It is unclear to what extent the Coalition will continue with the current FTTH NBN deployment, should it take power at the next election.
I believe readers are relatively familiar *cough* with my position on this issue by now. I believe that NBN Co is not being transparent enough with its disclosures around its network rollout – its key benchmark, and I believe that compiling this information should not take the amount of time NBN Co is claiming it does – given that NBN Co has close to 1,700 staff and brand new IT systems.
I am pleased to see that others in the community are also using the Freedom of Information process to attempt to source this information from NBN Co. I was planning to file a similar FoI request for the full figures from the last quarter of 2012 on the 1st of February. But now that Warren has already done that, I’ll be content to await the results of his query, which we should receive, given the strictures of the FoI legislation, within several months at the most.
If NBN Co responds to the FoI request in full, we may also receive some additional clarity on how the company puts its statistics together, which would be a very good thing.