Syntheo not off the hook after playing hooky

Quigley said developing a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) corporate plan would need to make a number of assumptions

The Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) is likely to ask Syntheo to front up to another hearing after the construction company failed to appear before the committee on Friday, said independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

Syntheo, a joint venture with Lend Lease and Service Stream, was due to face questioning about its role in a recent three-month delay to the NBN.

Dale Connor, COO of construction and infrastructure at Lend Lease, appeared to show "support" for Syntheo, but did not answer questions regarding the Syntheo's role in the NBN's delays.

“Unfortunately I can’t speak on behalf of Syntheo with respect to any specific problems apart from what’s been publicly put forward,” he said.

Oakeshott told Computerworld Australia that the committee had invited Syntheo to appear at a hearing for “some time” and in the past 48 hours it indicated it would show up.

“Obviously something has happened in those 48 hours to change arrangements. I don’t have the details as to what’s led to where we’ve ended and some pretty skinny evidence provided by the individuals involved,” he said.

“I think the committee will meet and deliberate because I think issues of construction are very real risks for the overall build and area where the committee does need to do further work.”

Oakeshott indicated the committee would be likely to ask the company to appear again.

Syntheo has around $835 million worth of contracts to build the NBN in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Mike Quigley, CEO of NBN Co, told a parliamentary hearing in February this year that Syntheo had not connected any fibre serving area modules in WA or the NT, despite starting construction on the NBN in some areas more than 19 months ago.

Syntheo's construction of the NBN in the NT has now been handed back to NBN Co.

A FTTN corporate plan?

With the Coalition releasing its broadband policy last week, NBN Co was on Friday questioned by the committee on whether it could develop an alternate corporate plan based on fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technology.

Quigley told the committee that it was not NBN Co’s role to develop corporate plans for alternative technology solutions.

“[NBN Co] is an entity that executes government policy. We don’t make policy – we execute on it,” he said.

Quigley said developing a FTTN corporate plan would need to be based on several assumptions, such as who would pay for the remediation costs of copper.

“There’s half a dozen very meaty issues that would need to be resolved before we could analyse that in any detail,” he said.

However, NBN Co told the hearing that it has looked into alternative architectures for delivering the NBN to multi-dwelling units (MDUs), which has been problematic for NBN Co.

“From time-to-time the company looks at ways of doing things perhaps more cost effectively in line with what we think the government policy is. Then we may put those options before the government,” Quigley said.

“We looked at the option of running fibre into that basement, putting [a] small DSLAM into the basement and then using the existing copper. That has certain attractions, obviously because you don’t get into separation questions – structural separation issues – because normally that copper is owned by the building owner.

“There’s no question there’s a saving to be had by not [doing] fibre [to] a multi-dwelling unit, but there are some other issues that need to be dealt with, such as how do you ensure you get analogue voice, which is a tricky issue.”

Bipartisanship to help fifth committee review

Oakeshott has previously lambasted the Joint Committee on the NBN for becoming more about party politics than about the roll out of the network.

He has accused the committee of being stuck on a “policy dispute” about which technology was the most appropriate for the rollout of the NBN.

Oakeshott said while the committee may not get past “adversarial issues”, he is open to the committee discussing different technology options now the Coalition has committed to continuing with the NBN and not demolishing it.

“There’s certainly a policy dispute around how to get there and I think this fifth report will end up reflecting on those different policy options. I’m okay with that [because] previously there wasn’t a Coalition alternative position.

“That was proving problematic, so almost in a counter intuitive way, the fact that they’ve released a policy document has allowed all options to now be explored quite openly and that may assist in the production of a fifth report.”

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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