news The NBN company has flatly rejected an attempt to retrieve the results of its skinny fibre trials in Victoria through Freedom of Information laws, with the company listing a large number of reasons why it does not believe it should have to release the information.
In March this year, Delimiter and a number of other media outlets published a set of leaked documents produced by the NBN company in August 2015. The documents detailed the fact that the NBN company was set to trial a new style of fibre cable deployment in the ‘Local Fibre Network’ which delivers fibre to neighbourhoods as part of the NBN rollout.
The aim of the project was to test a new kind of “skinny” fibre deployment which the NBN company hopes will allow it to drive down the cost of rolling out fibre cables around Australia.
The NBN company has previously told Senate hearings that the trials of this ‘skinny fibre’ technology in the Victorian towns of Ballarat and Karingal had gone extremely well, with the technology being able to reduce the cost per premise of deploying the NBN to those regions by about $450 per premises.
This cost reduction has been interpreted by many commentators to be likely to help the NBN company bring down the cost of its Fibre to the Premises or Fibre to the Distribution Point rollout options significantly, meaning it may be attractive to deploy those technically superior technologies instead of the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node option.
To gain further clarity about the trials, in March Delimiter filed a Freedom of Information request with the NBN company seeking the results of the trials.
Delimiter believes the release of trial data would be significantly in the public interest, as it would directly assist with the public debate about the future model for the NBN rollout.
This issue has been a key one in this year’s election campaign, with the major parties taking radically different approaches to the NBN’s architecture model.
However, in a letter sent to Delimiter, the NBN company has flatly refused to release any of the data. You can download a copy of the letter here in PDF format.
In the letter, NBN legal counsel for FOI, Privacy and Knowledge Management, Kate Friedrich, noted that the documents with information about the trial results were created in the course of the NBN company carrying out its functions to complete its rollout in a way that achieved a commercial return.
As such, Friedrich argued, they contained costs, margins and processes; related to ongoing commercial endeavours; contained research and development data and intellectual property and more.
The lawyer argued that the release of these documents would negatively impact on commercial relationships held by the NBN company.
For all these reasons, Friedrich wrote, she had decided to deny the request.
Ultimately, the lawyer wrote, “NBN’s ability to roll out the NBN network cost-effectively” could be compromised if the documents were released, and even expose the company to legal action on the basis of a breach of confidence with its partners.
“For the above reasons, I am of the opinion that the relevant documents relate to NBN’s commercial activities and are exempt from release,” Friedrich wrote. “I am also of the opinion information in the relevant documents is either irrelevant to the application or too intrinsically linked with NBN’s commercial activities to be released in part.”
The decision follows a long history of the NBN company denying Freedom of Information requests.
According to the NBN company’s current FOI disclosure log, it has not released any documents under the FOI Act since mid-January this year. In addition, the company typically only releases a handful of documents each year — sometimes redacted — which have been sought under FOI laws.
Despite this, a 2012 review of the NBN company’s compliance with FOI legislation gave the company high marks in the area, stating that it was achieving a “high standard” in its administration of the FOI Act.
I had to try. I knew this FOI request would get knocked back, but I had to try.
Because this information is critical to the public debate over the viability of Fibre to the Distribution Point as a technology for the NBN company, as well as in the cost debate between FTTP and FTTN.
And because it was the right thing to do.