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nbn™ puts the acid on Australia's ISPs to speed up its NBN

We only do the last few kms, CEO Bill Morrow tells Senate Estimates

By Simon Sharwood, 28 Feb 2017

The chief executive officer of nbn™, the organisation building and operating Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN), has told Senate Estimates that retailers need to pay more attention to their networks in order to avoid disappointing customers.

In his opening statement, CEO David Morrow told Australia's Senate that “many people don't realise the government-owned nbn™ is only a small fraction of the end-to-end network that connects an end-user to their internet content or the other end of the telephone.”

He added:

“nbn ™is the last 10-15 kilometres, but the retailers have a far greater stretch of network that must be invested in and maintained to support the user experience. Failure to do so results in a reduction of speed, packet drop outs, or a call not going through.”

Morrow's statement first declares that the NBN construction project has passed through a first phase of developing a business plan and a second phase in which “the mandate was to improve the economic business plan by building an upgradable fit-for-purpose network as early as possible and at the least possible cost”.

Now Morrow feels the project has entered a third phase “that needs a greater focus on consumers”.

Doing so, he argues, will require industry-wide collaboration, because customers don't have a clear understanding of who is responsible for their internet experience.

“Many end-users are confused as to who does what and the industry — including us — must do a better job in providing that clarity,” Morrow told the Senate. “In going through some of the customer complaints, it’s clear there is too much finger-pointing and sometimes it is us and sometimes it is the retailer but more often than not, the end-user feels like they get the run around.”

He then once again pointed out that retailers' decisions impact user experience, explaining why customers of different retailers (RSPs) which use the same "on-boarding processes" for their customers are generating different customer satisfaction scores when polled by nbn™.

“Examples are the quality of the modem in the home, how much bandwidth the RSP has purchased from nbn, the size of their network that attaches to our POI, or even how much bandwidth they've purchased in overseas cables to access content from abroad.

“The service provider is more than a reseller of the nbn™ network,” Morrow said, “and consumers must select carefully to match their needs to what these service providers offer.”

These are fighting words, on two fronts.

Firstly, nbn™ is under constant attack for not building a future-proof network, thanks to its government-policy-enforced choice of carriage media other than optic fibre to the premises. By putting some of the responsibility for speed on retailers, Morrow is giving nbn™ a new line of defence.

Secondly, Morrow is giving RSPs notice that they'll need to explain themselves to consumers. The CEO has a big-stick-wielding friend of the same mind: Australia's competition regulator recently signalled it will forbid broadband advertisements that mention top-line data download rates. The regulator wants RSPs to instead advertise speeds that customers will actually experience at busy times of the day.

Morrow's remarks come after nbn™ recently increased the discounts it offers to RSPs. Critics feel those discounts were not deep enough to encourage retailers to offer higher-speed plans with more downloads. Morrow's remarks point out that nbn™ s is required to make a “modest profit”, a subtle reminder that it cannot discount deeply and meet its wider mandate.

The CEO said he'd also address teething problems on the network, saying that “early problems with fibre-to-the-node service activation are largely behind us and we are now making similar improvements in the more recently added technologies.”

“Like all of the previously launched technologies, we have a period of time where issues or concerns are discovered and rectification is needed,” he said. “Network adjustments, nbn™ process adjustments, and retailer process adjustments have had to be made in all cases and this will continue as we move further up the maturity curve.”

Morrow's defence of his company is to be expected. The Register has been approached to submit questions to be put to Morrow by opposition Senators and on the basis of those conversations, believes the CEO likely faced a robust set of questions in his Tuesday evening appearance. ®

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