news The NBN company today officially launched its new HFC cable infrastructure, in a move that may further breach the Caretaker Conventions that govern the pre-election behaviour of public sector organisations.
Labor’s original plan for the National Broadband Network saw the project building a near-universal Fibre to the Premises network around Australia. However, since taking power in September 2013, the Coalition has integrated the legacy HFC cable and copper networks owned by Telstra and Optus.
This morning the NBN company formally launched commercial services on its HFC cable infrastructure.
“NBN’s first commercial Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) services are today available to Retail Service Providers in Redcliffe, QLD with some 18,800 premises now Ready for Service (RFS) and ready for Retail Service Providers to connect customers to the NBN™network in the area,” the NBN company said in a media release.
The statement was published on the NBN company’s website but not emailed to Delimiter, in a departure from normal practice.
“NBN is extending and upgrading the former cable networks, sometimes referred to as pay TV cables, of Telstra and Optus to deliver HFC services on the NBN™ network,” the NBN company added.
“This milestone, flagged in January via the NBN Product Roadmap, means homes and businesses in the Redcliffe area will be able to order an NBN service by contacting their retail service provider who will be able to access peak wholesale speeds of up to 100/40Mbps.”
“NBN currently plans to have 875,000 HFC premises RFS with 200,000 of those end-user premises activated on the NBN™ network by June 2017.”
The NBN company also included a rider in its statement, noting that end user experience of actual speeds on the NBN may vary from the speeds actually purchased by customers, depending on “some factors outside our control like equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how the end user’s retail service provider designs its network”.
The HFC cable launch was flagged by NBN chief executive Bill Morrow in Senate hearings in early May, and was also flagged ahead of time in the opening months of this year, as part of the NBN company’s near-term roadmap.
However, it is still possible that the launch constitutes a formal breach of the Caretaker Conventions which govern the behaviour of government departments and publicly-owned companies such as the NBN company.
The Conventions (available online) place strict limitations on issues such as advertising campaigns carried out during the election campaign, using government premises to promote particular policies. They state, for example:
“Officials should not use agency resources or their positions to support particular issues or parties during the election campaign … Officials need to exercise judgment if they are scheduled to speak at public functions during the caretaker period.”
“In the case of controversial issues, officials should decline invitations to speak. In the case of non-controversial issues, officials may speak, but should explain that the Government is in caretaker mode and that they will limit their statements to factual issues and matters of administration. Officials should avoid publicly explaining or promoting policies during the caretaker period.”
The NBN company has already formally breached the Caretaker Conventions during this election period once; in the publication of an article by its chair Ziggy Switkowski which defended the company’s actions in tracking down whistleblowers.
At the time, Switkowski was formally advised by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, that the article would breach the Conventions. Despite the advice, Switkowski went ahead with publication.
The NBN company has also taken action which could be viewed as partisan during previous election campaigns.
In 2010, for example, then-NBN chief executive Mike Quigley attracted heavy criticism for announcing during that year’s campaign that the NBN network was capable of 1Gbps speeds, and heavily criticising the Coalition’s own broadband policy.
And during the 2013 Election Campaign, the NBN company again came under fire for collaborating with the Labor Government to host a series of launches nationally for the company’s Fibre to the Premises service.
I think the NBN company is doing their very best to keep this one under the radar, conveniently forgetting to issue the launch press release to journalists and only publishing a brief statement on its website.
However, the launch timing — just two days before a Federal Election — does beg the question …
Couldn’t this have waited until next week? Why does the HFC cable network absolutely need to be launched today, just two days before a Federal Election?
Image: NBN company