Monday, 29 July 2013

NBN: Spelling out the consequences of "Telstra takes Metro"

Previously I've wondered if the Turnbull Node Plan is actually "let Telstra use RIM's and HFC Cable to own all the Metropolitan areas".

Telstra, as long it as a wholesaler provided Layer 2 access at the PoI's, would be able to undercut NBN Co in the cheapest to build and most profitable regions and not have to provide any high-cost services: they get to maximise revenue and minimise expenses. That's a great deal for Telstra, but very poor for subscribers - it likely robs them of choice.

Telstra only has to beat $24/month for 12/1 Mbps. It could offer $18/mth for ADSL2, $21/mth for VDSL2 or HFC Cable and $27/mth for VDSL2 with Vectoring. It could even go back to offering access at different prices in different places. Lower near the CBD, higher on the urban-margins.

If the Turnbull Node Plan really becomes "let Telstra take Metro" then it cannot be held to its published Broadband Plan. All the Copper services (DSL/FTTN) simply evaporates from the spreadsheet. NBN Co become a collection and connection service for Telstra, making almost nothing from 75% of Fixed line services.

It would be within the power of the Communications Minister to direct NBN Co to not offer, or plan, services to areas deemed to already have adequate "very high speed" broadband available. In fact, a competent NBN Co CEO and Board would probably model the impact of wide-scale Cherry Picking, already flagged as a major Risk in the 2010 Corporate Plan, and examine the impact of access prices being undercut across all Metro areas.

The mass roll-out and volume drop install would have to be re-examined in those areas. At the very least, they would go back to "On-demand" drops - over twice the price per premise. Could NBN Co survive on just 1%-5% of Fibre Access in Metro regions? Not if they didn't require long-term contracts and place minimum speed (50/20 or 100/40 Mbps) conditions on the service.

The NBN Co business model of "single wholesale price" was always predicated on subsidising the expensive connections (particularly Wireless and Satellite) with the cheaper end of mass Fibre. This goes out the window if 75% of their Fixed Line market is removed.

The question is not then "will Copper ever pay for itself" but can NBN Co keep afloat?

As its major Creditor, Testra would be in a good position to get a failing NBN Co for nothing more than what it was "owed". That would be the biggest commercial disaster for Australia Telecommunications possible.

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