Under questioning in the Senate Estimates Committee last night, he said NBN construction could not switch over the FTTN immediately. “The transition will take most of 2014 to execute. So we will be FTTP from now well into next year, and then the starting date for FTTN (fibre to the node) at scale will be quite late next year. So to have until to the end of 2016 is a very, very tight timetable."
That would seem to give him wiggle room for a delay to this schedule – the first such indication to come from NBN Co or the Government.
Switkowski answered a number of questions on the company’s plans and actions under the Coalition. He told the committee, in its first sitting on the NBN, that FTTN was the way to go. "One key advantage of FTTN is that the network can be built and completed more quickly and less intrusively and less expensively than an all fibre network.
“FTTN should see us provide access to Australians at the 25 Mbps level faster than virtually any other fixed network option.”
Switkowski also said that the changes to the NBN construction maps did not mean construction of FTTP was slowing. "That is just a way of presenting data. Nothing has changed. The only thing that changed was the way in which we were reporting the roll out."
He said that Telstra’s copper network is “robust” and can handle the FTTN model now being implemented. But under questioning from Labor’s Kate Lundy, he admitted that his view on the quality of Telstra’s copper was based on “anecdotal evidence” and his own experience when he was at Telstra (he was CEO from 1999 to 2004).
Lundy said Telstra had been talking up the condition of the copper network ahead of renewed talks with NBN Co on the use of the infrastructure for the revised FTTN plan, and that she was surprised NBN Co should apparently be taking Telstra’s side.
“I default back to my own history. It's constantly being maintained, remediated, upgraded,” said Switkowski. "My feeling is that in 2013, the copper network fault rate may be higher than it was in the time I was at Telstra, but perhaps not materially higher," he said.
"As best as I can tell, the copper network continues to perform robustly. I think concerns that the network may not be the basis for the next generation of broadband platform are misinformed," he said.
Lundy said that is exactly what Telstra has been saying. “We would expect that from Telstra. I must say, I didn't expect it from you."
Lundy also quizzed Switkowski on the number of ex-Telstra executives now running NBN Co. He said that made sense, because Telstra is the largest telecommunications organisation in Australia and “one of the few that produce the range of skills that building this network requires.
“For a project of this complexity, it is essential that we have experts in their fields who have deep experience working for organisations that are leaders in the telecommunications industry.”
Under further questioning, Switkowski argued that there had not been enough Telstra people in NBN Co, and too few with construction expertise.