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Was Christopher Pyne right about the NBN? Q&A

Election FactCheck Q&A: has the NBN been delayed?

The Conversation is fact-checking claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9:35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.

Excerpt from Q&A, May 23, 2016.

And there has not been a delay of the NBN … Because of Malcolm Turnbull’s management of the NBN, it will all be finished by 2020, not 2024 as Labor was promising, with speeds that people want and need. – Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, speaking on Q&A, May 23, 2016.

The election campaign has brought national broadband network (NBN) policy back into the spotlight, particularly as the incumbent prime minister was responsible for the NBN in his previous role as communications minister.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne told Q&A there has not been a delay of the NBN. Is that right?

2013: the year of election promises and reviews

The Conversation contacted a spokesperson for Christopher Pyne seeking comment and sources to support his statement, but did not hear back before deadline.

Nevertheless, most of the documents on the recent history of the NBN can be found online.

As acknowledged in this Coalition document, the previous Labor government promised to deliver an NBN by a deadline of 2021 (not 2024 as Pyne stated on Q&A).

Prior to the 2013 federal election, the nbn co under the then-Labor government said it planned to deliver a predominantly fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network by 2021.

But there were delays in negotiating with Telstra for access to ducts and pits, the discovery of asbestos in some of Telstra’s network and other teething problems.

In its 2013 pre-election promises, the Coalition said its goal was to provide everyone in the nation with access to broadband with download data rates of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by 2016. The Coalition also planned to deliver between 50 and 100 megabits per second to 90% of the fixed-line footprint by the end of 2019. That election commitment, the Coalition said, “assumes the current NBN Co satellite and fixed wireless networks are deployed on schedule”.

But after the election, the Coalition dropped its promise to deliver 25 to 100 megabits per second to everyone in the nation by 2016.

Then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull said that a December 2013 Strategic Review of the NBN commissioned by the new government had found that:

the NBN is in a fundamentally worse position than the Labor Government at any time disclosed to Parliament or the Australian public.

The strategic review also said that Labor’s NBN would not have been completed until 2024.

2015: New plans

In 2015, nbn co issued its 2016 corporate plan.

In this document, the company now estimated that Labor’s plan for

an all-FTTP fixed-line rollout could be completed by 2026 but possibly as late as 2028.

However, former nbn co CEO Mike Quigley has challenged this revised estimate. In a 2015 article, he wrote:

For that to be correct, one has to assume that, for the next 13 years, nbn co will roll out just 12,300 premises per week on average. Fewer premises than it regularly passes each week today. It is almost certainly true that an all-FTTP NBN would take longer to complete than its inferior MTM counterpart [the Multi-Technology Mix proposed by the Coalition]. But it would likely only be longer by one to three years…

In late 2015, an nbn co spokesman was reported as saying that the company had

deliberately chosen to take a more gradual approach to [fibre to the node or FTTN] activations than was originally flagged.

The 2016 leaks

Early in 2016, internal nbn co documents were leaked to the media.

These and other leaked documents – which were at the centre of a recent Australian Federal Police raid on Labor offices and a staffer’s home in an effort to find the leaker – were reported as showing bottlenecks and delays in the fibre to the node (FTTN) and hybrid fibre coax (HFC) components of the rollout.

In response, nbn co said:

NBN has met or exceeded every key target for six quarters in a row.

Current nbn co chair Ziggy Switkowski wrote on May 28, 2016, that:

The company will meet its targets for the ninth quarter in a row … There are no “cost blowouts” or “rollout delays” to the publicly released plans.

It’s beyond the scope of FactCheck to say with any certainty whether the leaked documents accurately reflect the full picture.

It’s important to note that as any technical and other teething problems are resolved, nbn co should be able to ramp up the roll-out rate to improve its chances of meeting a 2020 project completion date.

Internet access speeds around the world are growing rapidly and this growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Australia’s internet speeds are slow compared to other developed countries.

Infographic: How fast is the NBN?


Christopher Pyne’s assertion that there have been “no delays” in the implementation of the NBN is inaccurate. Some delays occurred under the Labor government, and the early stages of the FTTN rollout under the current government have been slower than the Coalition originally envisaged.

Leaked documents and reported statements by an nbn co spokesperson also suggest delays occurred under the Coalition government. However, nbn co rejects that, saying it has met or exceeded its key targets.

Labor promised a completion date of 2021, not 2024 as Pyne said. It was the December 2013 strategic review of the NBN commissioned by the Coalition government that said Labor’s NBN would not have been completed until 2024. – Rod Tucker


This article is factual and correct. As stated in the article, delays in nbn co’s rollout is also self-evident by comparing the original deployment date promises made before the 2013 federal election with the revised schedule outlined in the December 2013 strategic review of the NBN, initiated by the Coalition government. – Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas

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