Government-owned broadband business NBN Co has applied to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to stop quarterly updates on its network rollout, arguing they are redundant.
The business has applied to the ACCC to vary the Special Access Undertaking (SAU) it signed up to in December 2013, which is the overarching framework for the regulation of access to the NBN.
The changes pave the way for NBN Co to shift to fibre-to-the-distribution point (FTTdp), the technology preferred by industry experts over the Coalition government’s copper-based fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) strategy.
FTTdp is considered superior technology at roughly the same price as FTTN.
While the original agreement, which took two years to negotiate, was meant to provide technology neutrality, NBN Co wants it to contain specific details fibre-to-the-basement, fibre-to-the-node, and hybrid-fibre coaxial technologies and HFC (the old pay TV wires), with the capacity to incorporation of future variants such as FTTdp.
The ACCC will seek feedback over the next three months on the issue, with commissioner Cristina Cifuentes saying “the SAU currently does not capture the additional network technologies that NBN Co has introduced since the SAU was accepted.”
The SAU is a key part of the framework that governs the price and other terms upon which NBN Co will supply wholesale services over the NBN.
But the aspect that will capture most attention is the plan to change the company’s reporting requirements. NBN Co’s quarterly updates have become politically charged in the wake of the Coalition’s promise to roll out the network faster than the ALP, with Labor seeking to make political capital from delays and cost overruns at NBN Co.
Scrutiny of the business and public disclosure has also become a matter of public debate following raids a fortnight ago by Australian Federal Police on the Melbourne office of Labor senator Stephen Conroy and an ALP staffer over suspected leaks about the NBN. The company referred the matter to police after internal documents leaked to Fairfax Media revealed the project had fallen two-thirds short of its benchmark construction timetable and costs were blowing out.
The ACCC says the NBN Co wants to change the nature and extent of rollout progress information that it would be obliged to provide to NBN access seekers, as well as changing the dispute management process.
NBN Co argues the quarterly updates are unnecessary because it publishes “extensive rollout-related information” on its website, including on availability and the three-year rollout, along with a weekly progress report on premises passed and activated.
It prefers annual to quarterly reports. The company also argues rollout details are commercially sensitive and only access seekers should be able to see them.
NBN Co says wants to “clarify” the intended meaning of “publish”.
“Information contained in NBN’s rollout plans is commercially sensitive to NBN; therefore, there must be appropriate restrictions in relation to the entities to which the information is provided, and how it is used by those entities,” NBN Co says in its submission.
“The variation includes the ability for nbn to impose certain conditions on access seekers obtaining rollout information, including that the information must only be used for permitted purposes.”
The ACCC is inviting submissions on NBN Co’s proposed variation by 26 August, and will shortly release a consultation paper on the SAU variation.