The declaration of completion from the federal government is a crucial first step in paving the path for the privatisation of the NBN.
But there will be far sterner tests ahead before we get anywhere close to that process. There will be a Productivity Commission inquiry, the findings of which will be vetted by a parliamentary joint committee, and until the NBN Co can deliver reliable baseline speeds, ideally 50 Mbps across the entire network, both fixed and wireless, the full potential of the project will remain unrealised.
Using a mix of technologies to connect the homes to the network may have helped NBN Co meet its flexible construction timetable, but it has now left gaps in terms of the service many homes can receive.
NBN Co has, in theory, a fix for this, with $3.5 billion earmarked to provide around 6 million households with the option of accessing ultra fast internet speeds, including providing fibre-to-the-home connections at no charge to those homes that sign up for high-speed plans.
However, the upgrade process won’t be all about the money and will rely on effectively co-ordinating the workforce available to NBN Co. Given the current contention between telcos and NBN Co over whose shoulders the burden for botched NBN connections rest, the upgrade process is likely to pose its own set of complications.
According to the telcos, there are still a high volume of faults and outages on the NBN side of the network, which leads to poor customer experience and, in turn, increases their cost to serve them.
Telstra, Optus and TPG also maintain they are paying NBN Co far too much for wholesale capacity. That’s despite the discounts and cuts offered by NBN Co, but as long as the CVC charge, which covers the amount of bandwidth telcos can make available to customers, remains in place, the telcos won’t stop agitating against it.
As a reseller of NBN services, the charge burns a hole in the profits of the big operators and even 5G mobile technology’s purported magic won’t be enough, at least in the short term, to staunch that bleeding.