Labor’s NBN policy calls for re-wiring of 750,000 homes

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Labor’s NBN policy calls for re-wiring of 750,000 homes

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has launched a new National Broadband Network (NBN) policy, with the headline item being a pledge to re-wire 750,000 homes using fibre-to-the-node connections.

Labor’s advanced that plan because doing so will “Improve speeds and reliability” for those homes. The policy calls for NBN Co to do the re-wiring work at no cost to households, and says “This will reduce dropouts and improve speeds for broadband services in up to 750,000 Fibre to the Node households.”

The policy announcement was not accompanied by costings for the domestic re-wiring, or other elements of the plan. Those include:

  • A plan for “targeted future co-investment in fibre” including “trials of fibre upgrades to validate costs and assess co-investment mechanisms to responsibly deliver targeted upgrades over the medium term.”
  • A plan to “safeguard small businesses against unreasonable and excessive periods of NBN downtime and provide greater accountability.”
  • A “Digital Inclusion Drive to get more older Australians and low-income households connected to the NBN, making our country more modern and more inclusive.”

The ALP has also pledged to “Review the economics of the NBN: Labor will commence an immediate review of the economics of the NBN, including the implications of the multi-technology mix on NBNCo’s long-term cash flow position, capital structure, pricing evolution, and the capacity of NBNCo to co-invest in future infrastructure upgrades under a range of market scenarios.”

Comment

At the time of writing the ALP plan is little more than a press release.

But the re-wiring pledge is new, and interesting. For starters, it blames home cabling for the NBN’s woes. That’s a retreat, of sorts, from previous assertions that Fibre to the Node is substandard. It’s also likely an expensive promise, for which we are yet to see costs or a source of funding.

The pledge to seek new co-investment in fibre is also intriguing, because we don’t yet know who the ALP imagines will invest alongside NBN Co. But the plan to trial fibre upgrades appears to counter NBN Co’s own current plans, which currently expect DOCSIS 3.1 to improve performance of its HFC connections and G.Fast to improve performance of fibre-to-the-node.

Also notable: Labor has previously pledged to try to restore fibre to new NBN installs. That policy seems to have gone away in favour of a plan to just get the build done and then make sure the network behaves.

On economics, NBN Co’s transition to being a network operator was always going to see it re-assess and perhaps seek to renegotiate the way it operates. Labor’s policy will hasten the inevitable. Of most interest is the discussion about future co-investment as that looks to suggest a role for NBN Co to work alongside other carriers. Today NBN Co sometimes all-but competes with other carriers. Labor seems to want to set firm boundaries!

CRN will update this story as the policy position becomes clearer.

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