“He uses statistics like a drunk man uses a lamp post,” said American sports announcer Vin Scully. “For support, rather than illumination.” He could have been referring to the current debate (if that’s the tight word) over NBN Co’s rollout of the National Broadband network.
There has been a spate of stories in the press in the last week about delays to the schedule, fuelled by the partisanship of the Federal Election non-campaign, and by the unfortunate exchange last month in the Senate Estimates Committee.
Remember what they said? Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan called NBN Co head Mike Quigley “brain dead”. Even more wittily, he said to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that he was “full of shit”, at which point Conroy accused Heffernan of drinking, and told him to “go somewhere else and annoy someone else”. A very high standard of debate indeed.
At those hearings it transpired that NBN contractor Syntheo (a joint venture between Lend Lease and Service Stream) was significantly behind its connection schedules in its contracted regions in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
That led to a frenzy of accusations from the Opposition and other NBN critics that things were bad and getting worse. Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, ever one for a nicely turned phrase (unlike Bill Heffernan) said the rollout was in “utter disarray”.
Then we had Turnbull’s widely reported comments at the IT journalists’ forum on the Sunshine Coast, when he accused the press of pro-Labor bias and a lack of knowledge about broadband developments in other countries. He forcefully expressed his oft-repeated view that FTTH (fibre to the home)is taking too long and will cost too much, and we would be better off with a FTTN (fibre to the node) system.
Turnbull has for some time claimed that NBN Co has been “fudging” its rollout numbers. NBN Co has been thrown on the defensive, and now finds it is having to defend its rollout and the way it reports its numbers on all sides. Then this week newsletter iTnews (a competitor to iTWire) published a long article accusing NBN Co of fudging its rollout numbers to make things seem better than they actually are.
iTnews conducted what it described as an analysis of NBN Co’s published schedules and actual connections, and accused the company of delaying fibre connections to nearly 70,000 premises in one month alone in order to begin construction activities in a greater number of cities and towns.
iTnews said that NBN Co had “effectively found a way to expand the network — without adding a great many new connections.” It went into seemingly great detail, even listing the electorates where the delays had occurred and which political party held those seats, clearly implying that many of the changes were for political advantage.
NBN Co replied, also in detail. Peter Ferris, NBN Co's Executive General Manager Planning and Design said that the assertions in the article are “entirely untrue”, and that a correct interpretation of NBN Co’s published data “would confirm the following facts”,
Go to the next page for NBN Co's response and more anlysis.