$600 million mistake: NBN Co admits to overlooking 300,000 premises

NBN Co boss Stephen Rue has admitted the firm failed to connect 300,000 homes by the rollout deadline.

NBN Co boss Stephen Rue has admitted the firm failed to connect 300,000 homes by the rollout deadline. Photo: AAP

After claiming its rollout of Australia’s national broadband network was effectively complete by the mid-year deadline, NBN Co has now admitted it overlooked 300,000 premises that will need to be connected at an estimated cost of $600 million.

NBN Co chief executive Stephen Rue admitted to a Senate hearing this week that the firm had discovered 300,000 homes and businesses that still need to be connected.

This is on top of the 100,000 premises across 135 suburbs that NBN Co had already disclosed were awaiting connection as the June 30 rollout completion deadline came and went.

Mr Rue blamed out-of-date address databases relied upon by NBN Co for the oversight.

“As we got to the end of the build, we found there were more premises to build to than the data showed,” he told the Senate.

“Believe it or not, there actually wasn’t a database of all the premises in Australia.”

In February, Mr Rue said the NBN’s rollout was “well positioned” to be completed by the middle of the year, and that the firm would not be seeking additional taxpayer funds.

The 300,000 premises are now set to be connected to the broadband network from now into 2021 at a cost of $600 million.

Mr Rue is Australia’s best paid civil servant, taking home $3.1 million in the 2019-20 financial year, including a bonus of $1.2 million.

In June, an NBN Co spokesman told The New Daily the NBN was “99 per cent complete”, with approximately 100,000 premises left to work through “that were difficult to reach, heritage sites and culturally significant sites”.

NBN Co claimed the network was “99 per cent” by the June 30 deadline, but has now admitted it failed to account for 300,000 premises.

This isn’t the first time NBN Co has been pulled up on its figures.

In February, the firm was accused of “sneakily” slashing $200 million in spending on regional Australia, while simultaneously pushing for a new regional broadband tax.

In September, The New Daily revealed that despite the hype around the Morrison government’s $4.5 billion backflip on fibre-to-the-premises upgrades, NBN Co’s own corporate plans showed just 400,000 connections are expected to be upgraded by mid-decade.

RMIT associate professor in network engineering Mark Gregory told The New Daily that NBN Co has become less and less transparent.

“The information coming out of NBN Co is not something we can rely on,” Dr Gregory said.

“We’ve got problems with the HFC still, the G.Fast hasn’t been turned on…all of these things were promised for 2019.”

Dr Gregory said there “needs to be an Audit Office investigation of what’s really going on inside NBN Co”.

NBN’s cost blowout

The cost of the NBN rollout, which was increased to $51 billion in 2018, has now surged past $57 billion.

The cost and completion date of Australia’s NBN has blown out repeatedly.

Under Labor’s initial 2008 plan, Australia was to have a 93 per cent fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) NBN at an estimated cost of $43 billion by 2021.

When the Coalition took power in 2013 this plan was scrapped in favour of a multi-technology-mix (MTM) NBN at an estimated cost of $41 billion by 2019.

Originally slated as a network that would deliver super-fast FTTP to nearly every home and business in Australia, today’s NBN is a “mixed-technology network” with users connected to the service via a hotchpotch of seven methods – including those that rely on old copper telephone wires – with quality, speeds, and reliability varying wildly.

Telco analysts have complained that Australia’s NBN has long been used as a “political football” to the detriment of the nation.

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