news The Federal Government has taken steps to stop the public getting access to a key data set which details why the NBN company believes a full-Fibre to the Premises rollout would cost up to $38 billion more and take eight years longer to finalise than its currrent controversial Multi-Technology Mix plan.
In October last year, former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy successfully used Senate powers to extract a letter sent in April 2015 from then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to the NBN company.
The letter confirmed that as Communications Minister, Turnbull joined forces with Cormann to explicitly ask the NBN company to create information that could help the Coalition make the case that Labor’s Fibre to the Premises model was not worth pursuing.
The NBN company complied with the request, and a very heavily summarised form of that information, known as a ‘counterfactual’, made its way into the NBN company’s most recent corporate plan published last year, finding that a full-Fibre to the Premises version of the NBN, similar to the one originally envisioned by the previous Labor Government, would cost between $74 billion and $84 billion to complete (versus $46-$56 billion for the MTM) and could take until 2028 to be finished, compared with 2020 for the MTM.
However, at the time, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield refused to release the ‘high-level desktop analysis’ that the numbers were based on, citing a commercial in confidence rationale. Conroy did not pursue Fifield over the matter further in the Senate.
Last week, the Department of Finance released new documents pertaining to the issue, in response to a FOI request filed by Crikey.
They reveal firstly that it was not only Turnbull and Cormann, but also the Department of Finance itself (in a letter authorised by Cormann) which had simultaneously asked for the NBN ‘counterfactual’ information from the NBN company in April 2015. You can download that letter here in PDF format. Much of it has been redacted.
In an initial response to the two Ministers on 8 May last year (here in PDF format), NBN chief financial officer Stephen Rue wrote back responding with a letter containing unofficial financial projections for NBN company for the years from 2023 to 2040, based on its current Multi-Technology Mix model.
However, those projections have been completely redacted by the Department of Finance on the rationale that they could disclose commercial information.
On 28 May last year, the NBN company’s chief executive Bill Morrow sent a second letter to the two Ministers (here in PDF format), noting that the NBN company had complied with the Government’s request for ‘counterfactual’ data about a possible FTTP rollout to be generated.
However, as with the previous letter, the Department of Finance completely redacted all of the actual rollout and financial projections which the FTTP ‘counterfactual’ was based on.
Because of this, it is not clear what data the NBN company is basing its massively enhanced cost and rollout time projections for a FTTP rollout on.
The release of this so-called ‘high-level desktop analysis’ of a possible return to a FTTP scenario for the NBN company is one of the key current points of contention between Labor and the Coalition Federal Government over the NBN project.
Many in Australia’s technology community — including former NBN chief executive Mike Quigley, who founded the company and ran it for the first four years of its life — believe that the NBN company and the Coalition are currently overstating the cost and rollout time required to progress Labor’s original FTTP version of the NBN.
In November last year, Quigley released an extraordinarily detailed and highly referenced document analysing the NBN company’s publicly known costs, to back his claim that a recent up-to-$15 billion blowout in the cost of the NBN was due to the Multi-Technology Mix imposed by Malcolm Turnbull.
In the letter Morrow sent to Turnbull and Cormann in May 2015, the new NBN chief executive confirm that the MTM model had contained a “higher than anticipated cost and risk”.
However, he claimed, “the Multi-Technology Mix rollout remains a superior strategy to an FTTP rollout for fixed-line areas”.
Why is the NBN company happy to release its detailed costs and figures for its MTM model, but not for a projected return to a FTTP model? There can only be one reason. Because the company itself and the Government do not want journalists such as myself poring through this financial data and comparing it to the MTM model.
In the past, we’ve seen how even the NBN company’s own analysis under a Coalition Government shows that a FTTP model continues to make more sense than Malcolm Turnbull’s MTM model. I continue to be confident in the veracity of the original FTTP model as developed into a workable NBN plan by the company’s initial management led by founding chief executive Mike Quigley.
Perhaps someone at the NBN company would be brave enough to send me a copy of the ‘FTTP high-level desktop analysis’ which the company carried out at the behest of Malcolm Turnbull and Mathias Cormann. I think the release of that document would be strongly in the public interest, given the intense public debate about the MTM/FTTP models.
If so, Delimiter’s secure anonymous tips form is here. Thanks for any help anyone can provide.