Election FactCheck Q&A: has the NBN been delayed?


The Conversation is fact-checking claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9:35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.

This article is by Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne. It originally appeared on The Conversation. This fact check was reviewed by Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, Director – Melbourne Networked Society Institute.

And there has not been a delay of the NBN… Because of Malcolm Turnbull’s management of the NBN, it will all be finished by 2020, not 2024 as Labor was promising, with speeds that people want and need. – Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, speaking on Q&A, May 23, 2016.

analysis The election campaign has brought national broadband network policy back into the spotlight, particularly as the incumbent prime minister was responsible for the National Broadband Network (NBN) in his previous role as communications minister.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne told Q&A there has not been a delay of the NBN. Is that right?

2013: the year of election promises and reviews

The Conversation contacted a spokesperson for Christopher Pyne seeking comment and sources to support his statement, but did not hear back before deadline.

Nevertheless, most of the documents on the recent history of the NBN can be found online.

As acknowledged in this Coalition document, the previous Labor government promised to deliver an NBN by a deadline of 2021 (not 2024 as Pyne stated on Q&A).

Prior to the 2013 federal election, the nbn co under the then-Labor government said it planned to deliver a predominantly fibre to the premises (FTTP) network by 2021.

But there were delays in negotiating with Telstra for access to ducts and pits, the discovery of asbestos in some of Telstra’s network, and other teething problems.

In their 2013 pre-election promises, the Coalition said its goal was to provide everyone in the nation with access to broadband with download data rates of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by the year 2016. They also planned to deliver between 50 and 100 megabits per second by the end of 2019 to 90% of the fixed line footprint. That election commitment, the Coalition said, “assumes the current NBN Co satellite and fixed wireless networks are deployed on schedule.”

But after the election, the Coalition’s dropped its promise to deliver 25 to 100 megabits per second to everyone in the nation by 2016.

Then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull said that a December 2013 Strategic Review of the NBN commissioned by the new government had found that

the NBN is in a fundamentally worse position than the Labor Government at any time disclosed to Parliament or the Australian public.

The strategic review also said that Labor’s NBN would not have been completed until 2024.

2015: New plans

In 2015, the nbn co issued its 2016 corporate plan.

In this document, the company now estimated that Labor’s plan for

an all-FTTP fixed line rollout could be completed by 2026 but possibly as late as 2028.

However, this revised estimate has been challenged by former nbn co CEO, Mike Quigley, who said in a 2015 article that

For that to be correct, one has to assume that for the next 13 years, nbn co will roll out just 12,300 premises per week on average. Fewer premises than it regularly passes each week today… It is almost certainly true that an all-FTTP NBN would take longer to complete than its inferior MTM counterpart [the Multi-Technology Mix proposed by the Coalition]. But it would likely only be longer by one to three years.

In late 2015, an nbn co spokesman was reported as saying that the company had

deliberately chosen to take a more gradual approach to [fibre to the node or FTTN] activations than was originally flagged.

The 2016 leaks

Early in 2016, internal nbn co documents were leaked to the media.

These and other leaked documents – which were at the centre of a recent Australian Federal Police raid on a Labor offices and a staffer’s home in an effort to find the leaker – were reported as showing bottlenecks and delays in the fibre to the node (FTTN) and hybrid fibre coax (HFC) components of the NBN rollout.

In response, nbn co said:

NBN has met or exceeded every key target for six quarters in a row.

Current nbn co chair Ziggy Switkowski wrote on May 28, 2016 that

The company will meet its targets for the ninth quarter in a row… There are no “cost blowouts” or “rollout delays” to the publicly released plans.

It’s beyond the scope of FactCheck to say with any certainty whether the leaked documents accurately reflect the full picture.

It’s important to note that as any technical and other teething problems are resolved, nbn co should be able to ramp up the roll-out rate to improve its chances of meeting a 2020 completion project date.

Internet access speeds around the world are growing rapidly, and this growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Australia’s internet speeds are slow compared to other developed countries.

Infographic: How fast is the NBN?


Christopher Pyne’s assertion that there have been “no delays” in the implementation of the NBN is inaccurate. Some delays occurred under the Labor government, and the early stages of the FTTN rollout under the current government have been slower than the Coalition originally envisaged.

Leaked documents and reported statements by an nbn co spokesperson also suggest delays occurred under the Coalition government. However, nbn co rejects that, saying it has met or exceeded its key targets.

Labor promised a completion date of 2021, not 2024 as Pyne said. It was the December 2013 Strategic Review of the NBN commissioned by the Coalition government that said Labor’s NBN would not have been completed until 2024. – Rod Tucker


This article is factual and correct. As stated in the article, delays in the nbn co’s roll out is also self evident by comparing the original deployment date promises made before the 2013 federal election with the the revised schedule outlined in the December 2013 strategic review of the NBN, initiated by the Coalition government. – Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas

Have you ever seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image credit: Screenshot of Q&A, believed to be OK to use under fair dealing


  1. Was the asbestos problem ever that big a deal? Or was it an excuse for Telstra to be its usual obstructive self and to possibly make some more demands on the nation’s treasure or gain some other financial advantgae from the delay?

    • Various laws relating to Building, Health and Safety and removal of asbestos were passed in all States and Territories years ago. Of course Telstra is going to run and hide when their negligence is discovered.

  2. FTTN IS ADSL and they have now blown all the money. So of course the actual fibre NBN is delayed. Including the HFC was just a start for Telstra to get more money. That faulty crap should have been decommissioned this year.

        • I am aware that FTTN uses a form of DSL, however, I have seen this guy harping on about how FTTN is “A”DSL and that it isn’t any upgrade at all to what we currently have, many times over.

          While I do not support the MTM plan or FTTN in 2016, if we are going to actually beat the arguments of the people who DO support it, our arguments need to be factual, because those supporting the MTM will literally take one tiny part of our comments and spin off on a different tangent.

          So, being factual is important, and FTTN is NOT ADSL. Many people currently using ADSL get sub 5Mbit download speeds. For all of those people, even 12Mbit VDSL is an upgrade. (Is it a significant upgrade worth the price we are paying for the network? Hell no, but claims that we are spending money on no improvement at all is disingenuous. As disingenuous as NBN Co claiming FTTB is FTTN in their rollout numbers ;-) )

          • It’s important because they are quite different. Beyond 800m line length ADSL provides superior performance to VDSL, so unless you can ensure line lengths remain shorter than that you should stick with ADSL.

            Or, you know, replace with fibre.

          • Sure, at same line distances ADSL provides better speed than VDSL.

            But that isn’t a logical situation to talk about when discussing FTTN is it?

            If someone is on ~5Mbit now on ADSL, their line length is very likely near the 4km mark. Even if they are on a line length of 1200m from their node, they will still experience better speeds than their current ADSL service. Which was my point.

          • Actually, VDSL kinda dies over around 1200m (10ishMbps maybe) and wont go past 1500m:


            Once they upgrade to VDSL2, you might get 25Mbps at that distance. Thats one of the reasons Malcolm was talking about limiting the loops from the node to 1Km.

            Even with VDSL2, once your over 1500m ADSL2plus is the same speed as it. As with all “cheap magic”, copper only works close to it’s source (the node…the node being the fibre termination point…).

          • Right, but… my point is, they aren’t putting in ADSL hardware into nodes.

            They are installing some form of VDSL, be it VDSL or VDSL2. People who currently have short run ADSL and get 24Mbit, will have short run VDSL and get well above that.

            People who currently have long run ADSL, will end up with a run of copper significantly shorter, which MIGHT produce better speeds IF ADSL hardware were involved, but since it isn’t, will still likely result in BETTER speeds than they get currently on their LONG run of copper.

            The point of my original post is being lost, claiming that FTTN is ADSL is simply an error that the MTM cheerleaders will use to spin any response, they will ignore any valid points in any response and focus on the fact someone said that it is ADSL.

            We need to NOT spread misinformation, if makes us hypocrites if we allow people to spread misinformation about FTTN while shouting down those who spread misinformation about FTTP/the previous NBN build.

          • I get where your coming from, and don’t agree with the OP that “ADSL = VDSL”.

            But the fact remains, that in certain situations, ADSL2plus is actually better than either of the VDSLx versions (goes further than VDSL1, and is cheaper at longer distance for the same speeds as VDSL2).

            It just goes to highlight what a joke using any of them actually is, when we could have used FttN and gotten a solid consistent speed out to ~25-30Km (and possibly further depending on the design).

          • Hey Tinman, I can’t agree with that 25mbps at 1.2km figure – you show me VDSL2 with that kind of performance and I’ll show you some brand new copper at lower gauge (thicker) than we have in 90% of Australia. VDSL2 is more prone to attenuation than even VDSL, so line quality plays an even greater role. A 1.2km cutover does mean significantly lower density of nodes, which is why they’re aiming for it, but it also guarantees premises connected in the last 200m are going to get terrible service – that’s why the minimum service guarantee is no such thing – it’s a legal defence to a technical failure.

            Building out VDSL/2 FTTN on copper lengths greater than 800m is a guarantee that very large portions of the network will be incapable of achieving sustainable real world minimum service levels. And they’ve done it precisely because they would need to go to something like 80,000 nodes. Given we’re looking at maybe $56bn for what, 26,000 nodes? Would you like an $80bn order of nodes for your retrograde network?

          • I understand what your saying UG, but you’re missing my point, which is:

            ADSL2+ is actually superior to VDSLx once you go past a given point (700-1200m). So while the OP is “wrong” in that the technologies are the same, he’s right in that for many, there will be no actual upgrade at all.

            I suspect this is the basis of the PoE recommending FttP over wasting money on pursuing a copper based NBN that will not offer the actual benefits stated to many.

        • While legacy services such as ADSL & ADSL2+ exist on the same network FTTN/VDSL2 speed will be limited to 12/1 Mbps during the “Co-Existence Period”. FTTB/VDSL2 speed will be limited to 25/5 Mbps. Once the Co-Existence period is over NBN will provide 12/1 Mbps & 25/5 speed profiles and higher speeds available as an “up-to” range.

          Up to 100 Mbps download speeds can be achieved on Vectored VDSL2 connections

          • Up to 100 Mbps download speeds can be achieved on Vectored VDSL2 connections

            True, but the drop off of speed over even a short distance from the node (~300m) is pretty horrendous.

          • Don’t even get me started on FTTdP looooool

            Why? What problem do you have with Fttdp?

  3. “The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are.”
    Interesting! Thank you did not know about this.

  4. Euhh?

    LEAKED documents and reported statements by an NBN CO SPOKESPERSON also suggest delays occurred under the Coalition government.

    Double-check, is this correct, especially in the light of the other article “A breach of faith”

  5. If we’re going to work off policy promises, let’s do it for both parties. At Labor’s policy announcement in April 2009 the FTTP NBN was to be completed in 8 years. That’s 2017.

    • And anyway, there was the fly in the ointment of a fundamental change of policy with the change of Government in 2013. Labor’s goal was terminated. Working off what might have been is pointless. We can only test the current policy promises and it’s still long before the deadline.

      (Worth noting that almost all NBN customers *to date* are on Labor’s rollout, after 2 years and 9 months of Coalition Government.)

    • Their 2007 policy, taken to the election had it finished in 2012 for $4.7b.

      Tucker must have missed it;-)

      • Yet Telstra had a plan at no cost to the taxpayer for FTTP by 2010. But then you must have missed that one too

      • History Lesson – get your facts!

        G9 Consortium: Optus, AAPT, Internode, PowerTel, Primus, TransACT, Soul, iiNet and Macquarrie Telecom proposed their own FTTN network 20th April 2007. But it was rejected by the ACCC 17th December 2007 because of unknown conditions for access.

        In the 2007 election campaign Labor announced it would build the superfast network. The network cost estimate was *$15 billion* with included government contribution of $4.7 billion raised in part by sale of Federal Govt’s remaining shares in Telstra. After the election the Rudd Labor Govt issued the request for proposals (RFP) to build the NBN. Six proposals were submitted.

        Telstras submission was later retracted with warnings they would require compensation estimated $15-20 billion. None of the other bidders were able to meet requirements and not able to raise capital during the GFC. The RFP was terminated 7th April 2009

        Smoke it!

  6. Some people need to be reminded of the history of the National Broadband Network deployment!

    Australians are the new kids on the block when it comes to deployment of fibre broadband networks considering that the first FTTP deployment was in 1986 at Hunters Creek in Florida. Australians have never been, nor will they ever be, early adopters of technology.

    Now for some long forgotten history:

    NBN Co commenced the deployment of the National Broadband Network in Tasmania because it was an ideal testing ground. Access to broadband was poor and the area and population density is small compared to the mainland. Tasmania served as a training ground for engineers & splicers as well testing ground for the fibre cable manufactured in Australia by Prysmian. Engineers from Verizon, who have been deploying FTTP for years, came to give their expert advice & assistance.
    Many customers had probably never had Internet access in their lives therefore needed to be educated on it’s use.

    Abbott, Turnbull, Pyne and all the other riff raff never visited Tasmania to observe or have genuine concern for the deployment. Never pushed any button to light up a region. Instead all we heard is their continuous Luddite-like drone and their bandied about misinformation & rhetoric on the project.

    When the deployment commenced on the mainland, regional & country areas of low population density were selected where Internet access was non-existent and/or sub-standard because they where ignored by Telstra, Optus and other Australian telcos. Because of the low population density, not many premises where connected, but many kilometers of fibre where rolled out to connect the regions.

    It is only just in recent times, since the LNP where elected in 2013, deployment has moved to higher density populated areas on the outskirts of main towns and cities such as Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. As a result, the number of premises passed (not necessarily connected) has increased.

    All the pioneering work had already been done during Labor government and considering all constraints, the deployment was considerable. This includes contracts with Space Systems/Lorel for the building of the new satellites, which Turnbull and the naysayers tried to get credit for with they were launched!

    The LNP do not deserve ANY credit whatsoever, considering their continuous and relentless resistance, because it was all a Labor Government initiative to begin with. When in opposition, they never had one iota of practical involvement and zero input into the pioneering work.

    I could go all the way back to 2003/04 when the National Broadband Network was first conceived:

    2003: The Broadband Advisory Group’s Report to Government

    2004: Senate Inquiry Recommendations

    As for the evolution of data communications, I can’t remember the last time I implemented server racks and disk arrays in datacenters on copper based networks. I would have to look up my old resumes from last century. Fibre all the way to the NIC. Already motherboards have been developed incorporating fibre instead of copper. Only a matter of time before they come on mainstream as data transmission rates and integrity are far superior.

    • An alternate reality:
      FTTH has only become economic with copper for greenfields in the last decade (anything before that was wasted). Fibre is rarely used for the majority of data centres or LANs connections today (except backplanes). Half Tasmania’s population live in two cities. NBNCo’s decision not to target high value areas a major reason for its financial model’s failure. Majority of FTTN construction is not taking place on outskirts of the capitals listed. Both premises passed and activated are experiencing significant growth under the new management. Signing a contact to build and launch satellites is trivial with billions of taxpayers funding. NBNCo’s decision to overbuild the competitive dark fibre network for well serviced exchanges was yet another of it’s follies (why ACCC demanded 121 PoIs).

        • Circa 1911 I’d guess (same year as Ronny Raygun)… his outlook on life matches anyway ;o)

          • The poor knuckle-draggers will never get to see the benefits of a 10Gbps fiber broadband to open their Hybrid Cloud (/w SDN) to the outside world.

      • “Signing a contact to build and launch satellites is trivial with billions of taxpayers funding”

        Taxpayer funding? Liar! That is complete bullshit. The entire project was financed with equity finance on an asset with 7% ROI. The entire debt repaid entirely from NBN Co profits

        • All taxpayers money, see equity injections. Never had a 7% ROI (learn IRR). Never made a profit, likely never will.

          There’s another one.

          • So now you are an economic expert as well! looooool

            There would be no profit until the network is completed. All debt payed back by NBN Co. by 2035 on the 7% ROI!

            All the economic details in the documents provided by McKinsey-KPMG. You probably didn’t get the read the details in the $25 million report. Like everyone else you don’t understand economics!

            Smoke it!

          • Going by your lame responses, I can safely conclude that you couldn’t make number plates in a sheltered workshop. They would all get rejected because you would make the numbers arse-about-tit

          • All taxpayers money, see equity injections. Never had a 7% ROI (learn IRR). Never made a profit, likely never will.

            That’s the IRR based on SR13 figures Richard?

      • The services that make real profit cannot be provided on FttN or HFC.
        They just do not have QoS Quality of Service that is demanded. So the income
        from the MTM will never make a decent return. Had the original FttP continued then
        by mid 2020’s the income would be growing hard, and profit much greater.
        MTM is a loss making proposition, can only provide the bottom level services, not the ones
        that make the gold.

  7. In Sunday night’s debate, the Prime Minister reminded us that he had had a successful commercial career before entering politics.

    Sadly, since that career change, and despite no shortage of warnings, his incompetent stewardship of the end of life upgrade of the nation’s telecommunications network has swamped the value of his successes several times over.

    But as usual, it’s the nation which is picking up the tab and the culprit now wants to run the country and his colleagues are happy (well, a bit) to be lead by him.

    • “had had a successful commercial career”

      For all you people that don’t know during this successful career, he invented the internet in Australia, or that’s what i’ve heard. /s

      During his successful commercial career, he invested his own money in a French telco rolling out guess what… FTTP. So Mal is telling us it’s good enough for him to invest his money in, but not invest regular Joe Australian money in.

      Thanks Mal, you’re a legend!! /s

  8. Still major delays evident to me. My area has been in build for 3months but there’s been no work at all. The threads I’ve read on whirlpool where an area has gone into build all say that within a month there’s progress on the ground and leaflets have been put into letter boxes. Nothing like that has happened in our town, a town of 33,000. Flipping disgrace.

  9. The LNP NBN project is right on schedule. They spent years saying the private sector can do it better and now they are on schedule to prove that by the total flapup they turned the project into. They should have hired me I could have screwed the whole thing much quicker.

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