Bill Morrow, CEO of the company behind the rollout of Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has told customers to pay up or accept slow internet.
In heading the nbn, Morrow warned that Australians must pay extra to be upgraded from the copper-wire based FTTN service currently provided under the company’s roll-out strategy.
Fielding questions in Senate Estimates on 28 February, Morrow told Senator, Deborah O’Neill, that Australians will have to pay more for superior technology to receive faster broadband speeds than can be delivered via FTTN.
“When we see that people are willing to pay more than what they are paying today for 25 Mbps, then we will build a business case," he said.
“You have to be willing to pay above what you are willing to pay today… To pay for a network that is growing like ours, we need to ensure the revenue will grow in a way that will ultimately offer a modest return for the tax payers.”
Following Morrow’s speech, broadband advocacy group, Internet Australia, condemned the comments, questioning the validity of the apparent ultimatum.
“The boss of nbn, Bill Morrow, has effectively told four million of his current and future customers they will have to pay extra if they want to be upgraded from the copper-wire based FTTN service they will be provided under the current NBN rollout strategy,” Internet Australia CEO, Laurie Patton, said.
Earlier in the evening, Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, told the Senate committee the Coalition’s NBN strategy was based on the "best available advice at the time".
In response, Patton repeated his organisation’s call for the government to abandon FTTN and adopt fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp), which is “advanced technology” that has become available since Labor launched the NBN in 2009 and the Coalition subsequently adopted its multi-technology mix model using FTTN.
“They’ve already announced they’ll use FTTdp in lieu of the Optus HFC (Pay TV) cables that have been found to be unusable,” Patton added.
“So why continue to roll out inferior technology that they know will need to be replaced? If FTTN isn’t considered good enough for Optus customers how can they expect anyone else to settle for an inferior product?”
Internet Australia has also expressed concerns about some of the messaging coming from nbn’s corporate affairs department.
Last week, a Brisbane based nbn spokesperson tweeted that “we have an upgrade path to take FTTN to 1gb downloads”.
Consequently, this prompted Internet Australia to seek details from nbn, which it said has not been provided despite several requests.
“Mr Morrow’s evidence to the Senate last night directly contradicts his own PR people,” Patton added.
“If they did have an upgrade path why would he tell the Senate that people wanting faster speeds will have to pay to get different technology capable of delivering what they want?”
In addition, Internet Australia has called on the government and the opposition to "unite and support" a bipartisan NBN policy based on FTTdp.
“Our internationally respected technical experts assure me there is no such thing as an upgrade path for FTTN and it will need to be replaced within 10 to 15 years, if not sooner," Patton added.
During the address, Morrow said four out five of all homes and businesses in the country are now either in design, construction, or can already order a service from nbn.
“The 1.8 million existing end-users (on the nbn network) and the accelerating pace every week, means the absolute number of Australians who are now engaging with the nation's broadband transformation is higher than ever before, and we are still on the early part of the curve,” Morrow said.
“And this is why I believe we are entering the third phase of this industry-wide transformation; a phase that needs a greater focus on consumers. The end-user experience is important to every company involved in building, selling, and servicing this broadband internet access.”
According to Morrow, Australia is entering a new phase of deploying, using, and leveraging broadband across a fully connected country.
“The early problems with FTTN service activation are largely behind us and we are now making similar improvements in the more recently added technologies,” he added.
“Like all of the previously launched technologies, we have a period of time where issues or concerns are discovered and rectification is needed.
"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."
According to Morrow, the NBN rollout is a “monumental industry transformation” that “no one else on the planet has undertaken”.
“A collaborative partnership with many other companies is essential and will underpin every benefit that this undertaking promise,” he added. “We don't want anyone to have a negative experience but some do.”
During the address, Morrow acknowledged that many end-users are confused as to who does what meaning that the industry, including nbn, must do a better job in providing ongoing clarity.
“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 acknowledged.
Consequently, Morrow said the rollout is an industry-wide issue that cannot be fixed by nbn alone, and that service providers, too have an active role to play.
“Adding to the confusion is the fact that the process of having the service turned on, or the speed observed, or even the reliability of the end-to-end network is both the work of a chosen retailer and of nbn,” he added.
“We know end-users have a choice of access speed and they equally have a choice of a service provider.
"The service provider is more than a reseller of the NBN network and consumers must select carefully to match their needs to what these service providers offer.”