Much ado about nothing: SMH FTTN ‘revelations’ spur NBN circus



This article has been updated since it was published, following the receipt of new information. It appears Turnbull is incorrect in his statement that the document leaked to the SMH was created by NBN Co since months ago. It appears the document was created during the caretaker period of the recent Federal Election.

news The Sydney Morning Herald has published internal NBN Co information purporting to heavily criticise the Coalition’s rival FTTN model for the National Broadband Network. However, the information may not reflect the current state of play with the network or the Coalition’s plans.

In an inflammatory article published this morning, the newspaper stated that it had obtained what it described as NBN Co’s “internal analysis” of the incoming Abbott administration’s NBN policy, which the newspaper said had been prepared for the Coalition. The newspaper wrote: ” … the analysis casts doubts over the timing and cost-effectiveness of the government’s proposed fibre-to-the-node model, highlighting numerous legislative, construction and technical challenges likely to blow out the Coalition’s 2016 and 2019 delivery deadlines.”

The previous Labor Government’s NBN model would have seen the majority of Australian premises connected to a Fibre to the Premises network, the best available technology. In comparison, the Coalition’s more modest vision would have seen fibre only partially extended to premises, with the remainder using Telstra’s existing copper network, in a model dubbed ‘Fibre to the Node’. Each model has been used successfully internationally.

However, the Coalition’s plans are currently up in the air, pending the finalisation of a wide-ranging Strategic Review into NBN Co’s operations. The review will do a stocktake of NBN Co as the company currently stands as well as recommending options for the future deployment of the NBN.

The concerns raised in the SMH article this morning do match general concerns raised by many in the telecommunications industry with respect to the Coalition’s NBN policy.

For example, commentators have long highlighted the fact that they believe it will be difficult for the Coalition to meet its 2016 and 2019 targets to deliver 25Mbps and 50Mbps broadband speeds to most Australians. In addition, the FTTN model would require re-usage of Telstra’s problematic copper network, and would not deliver the same technical benefits or longevity of a more ambitious FTTP rollout.

However, there are also doubts as to how relevant the NBN Co document quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald this morning is.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed on the Today Show this morning (video available online) that the document had not, in fact, been prepared for the incoming Coalition Government. It had actually been prepared “more than six months ago” by NBN Co’s previous management for the then-Labor administration. This would have meant the document had been presented to then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Conroy has not yet commented on the date the document was created.

However, David Braue, the author of the SMH report, has since published a screenshot of the report on technology media outlet ZDNet which appears to confirm the document was created during the caretaker period before the recent Federal Election. This would contradict Turnbull’s claim the document was created six months ago.

“This document is A. Out of date and B. Defending a failed project,” Turnbull said this morning. Conroy has publicly acknowledged that the contractor construction model which Labor initiated for the NBN had failed, as NBN Co has repeatedly failed to meet its targets over the past six months and its relationship with a number of its contractors has collapsed.

“It has no credibility, absolutely none,” Turnbull said of the document. “Fairfax should have actually made it quite clear what the problems of that document were, and the truth is, that we will know what is actually going on with the NBN very soon, because there is a big strategic review under way at the moment, being overseen by the board of the NBN Co.”

“We’ve got Korda Mentha, the Boston Consulting Group, Deloittes, a big team in there to find out what the real state of the project is at the moment, where it’s heading under the old plans, what our options are for doing it sooner, cheaper and more affordably. It’s a very objective study, and that will be produced shortly. And what Labor’s trying to do, they’re trying to muddy the waters because they’re afraid of the truth.”

However, Turnbull also has been less than transparent regarding the NBN project. While the document published by the SMH this morning appears to be significantly out of date, the Minister has access to much more recent information prepared for him as part of his incoming Ministerial briefing (the ‘Blue Book’).

Because of the pivotal nature of the document and the need for updated information, on 25 September Delimiter sought access under FoI laws to the ‘Blue book’ of briefing documents which was provided by the Department of Communications to Turnbull when he was sworn in as Minister. This document, which is 545 pages long (according to the department), consists of everything which the department believes Turnbull will need to know, and will include a prognosis on the Coalition’s NBN policy and how it can be delivered.

However, the Department has rejected other FOI applications for Turnbull’s Blue Book, and Turnbull himself has declined to release the document publicly. Delimiter plans to appeal any such rejection applied to our own application.

“Malcolm could solve this very quickly by releasing his incoming government brief,” said Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek on the Today Show this morning. “Why is it a secret document? I released my incoming government brief, last time we came into government. Your government has released none of them.”

Image credit: Screenshot of the Today Show this morning


  1. With all due resepect, the 6 month time period does not change the technical details, the state of Telstra’s pits, or the fact that many of the costs of the FTTN plan are not included in the project cost.

    The report isn’t actually as off base as you’ve implied.

    Conroy’s performance this morning was one of the best i’ve ever seen him give, and i normally can’t stand the guy.

    • “or the fact that many of the costs of the FTTN plan are not included in the project cost.”

      This piece of information ALONE makes the FTTN plan more costly than the FTTP model that includes all connection costs.

      So the few billion saved by the FTTN model isn’t really saved as ‘costs’ are pushed to the users when they signup. People forget that the FTTP is free to signup to vs FTTN that has a connection cost paid for by the house.We are talking billions and billions here of connection costs that have been pushed to the home owner to make the FTTN look ‘cheaper’ on paper.

  2. “We’ve got Korda Mentha, the Boston Consulting Group, Deloittes, a big team in there to find out what the real state of the project is at the moment”
    External auditing team? Great! That means that there’s a document outlining the terms of reference of the review. Minister Turnbull should immediately release this to prove to the electorate that the review is completely objective, and it’s not rigged by a narrow ToR that only leads to FttN.

  3. The FTTH rollout isn’t perfect and no project is. A FTTN on paper is even more of a raw deal so in reality one can assume it’ll go downhill from there as every project does. That’s just how the real world tends to work. The only safe assumption in a debate as partisan as this is that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    I was initially hoping that the Coalition would push for an actually “technology agnostic” review despite my better judgement. It’s becoming increasingly clear that that’s not what is happening. The Turnbull I thought we might be getting in gov’ would have stressed that they’re open to all options rather than trying to have a dig at the previous NBNCo. They’re invested heavily in this review saying FTTN is the holy grail, they’re giving themselves less and less space for another outcome.

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