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Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network
17/07/2017
Rollout of the National Broadband Network

CANN, Mr Andrew, Chief Technology Officer, Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, Western Australia

[15:12]

ACTING CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence will have been provided to you. I invite you to make a brief opening statement and we will then move to questions from the committee.

Mr Cann : Thank you for the opportunity to attend today and discuss Western Australia's submission. The state supports the vision of the NBN and recognises that it is a very large project and will not be without its issues. The state would like to assist where possible to achieve the desired outcomes and ensure a high-quality service for all Western Australians. Western Australia is the large state in Australia and sparsely populated in comparison to the east coast, yet we are the state with the most reliance upon resource and agricultural industries based regionally or remotely. These are the backbone of the WA economy and, in some ways, the national economy and they increasingly rely upon quality communications for innovative activities such as remote mining, connected farms, data analytics and direct communications with their markets.

Communications in WA are therefore vital to the interests of the state and national economies. Communications are problematic in Western Australia because the vast distances involved and the remoteness of communities act as a disincentive for investment in new infrastructure. Until the NBN, most regional towns had only one telecommunications provider available to them and did not have access to quality broadband at reasonable prices. The lack of competition in regional Western Australia in particular leads to business and the community paying far greater rates for broadband services than the equivalent in other states. Even in the Perth metropolitan area, broadband, whilst widely available, has been in the lowest-quality categories as shown on the National Broadband Map.

The Commonwealth government, through the NBN, is addressing a market failure to solve a problem that private enterprise was either unwilling or unable to. By rolling out the NBN, the Commonwealth government is taking ownership and accountability, particularly in WA, for delivery of a high-quality, reasonably priced wholesale broadband network. However, the state does have concerns about whether that will be achieved, due to doubts regarding the service delivery and service management of the rollout, which are resulting in a suboptimal solution. The NBN should be ensuring that, regardless of the technology deployed, they deliver a high-quality solution that is fit for purpose for the future.

The WA state ICT strategy, Digital WA, has three key principles at its core that aim to improve the quality of technology used by the state. These are: that the technology should be simple—for example, by removing complexity we reduce the cost in management overheads; it should be connected, because a connected government with reliable quality communications allows for information-sharing; and it should be informed. We use shared data to make informed decisions regarding the service delivery to the community. The WA government is doing this to build the foundation for future enablement of digital services to the community, and the principles are essential elements to the outcomes.

The NBN appears to be doing the opposite in all three of these principles. The NBN is overly complex, in that it has increased complexity of the solution originally proposed, by introducing the multitechnology mix. This adds costs in power, maintenance and support and makes the system as a whole more difficult to operate. It is disconnected, in that there appears to exist a disconnect between customers, the NBN Co and retail service providers as to who is ultimately accountable and responsible for service delivery and service management quality outcomes. The NBN continually points customers to the retail service providers, and the retail service providers blame the NBN. The customer sits in the middle, with no resolution to any of the issues that they experience. And it appears to be uninformed, in that it is difficult to make informed decisions from a customer perspective regarding the NBN, as clear, unambiguous information is not provided about the rollout, the performance and fault resolutions.

Quality of service is important to the ultimate success of the NBN, and take-up and therefore financial viability appear to be suffering due to brand damage. This damage is growing every day as more and more stories are reported in the media about the issues NBN customers are experiencing. In the last few months, while the rollout has progressed in Western Australia, the take-up rate has dropped. From almost 42 per cent in April, it is now 39 per cent in July. In the same period, the number of homes rated as service class 0 has increased from 3.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent. Now over 23,000 homes are unable to get any services at all, and the number increases at around 2,000 homes per week. Unsurprisingly, the figure from the NBN weekly update shows that the take-up in Western Australia is the second worst of all states, behind South Australia.

In any project, there are three key aspects—time, cost and quality—that all affect the overall outcome and deliverables. The NBN, in its 2016 statement of expectations, places an emphasis on 'very fast broadband as soon as possible, at affordable prices, and at least cost to taxpayers'. With the 2020 deadline the NBN has been given, that focuses activities on time and cost of the rollout, at the expense of quality. The poor quality of service being widely reported by customers in service delivery and service management, with people stuck in limbo or awaiting service, getting lower speeds than they paid for and having a worse experience than they did with ADSL shows that the quality of the NBN product is suffering.

Placing time and cost ahead of quality also increases the risk and cost to Australia in the long run, as the project has to go back and remediate work previously done. This is already happening. Of the 196 micronodes deployed in Western Australia, only five are operational, and the remainder require technicians to go back and conduct commissioning work to bring them online. Customers in one particular suburb saw their micronode equipment installed over 12 months ago but still have no service today.

So the state's contention is that, to ensure the sought-after benefits of the NBN aren't compromised, quality of service management and service delivery for customers should be reprioritised to be at least equal to time and cost. The NBN should also continue to remain abreast of technology improvements and utilise the best possible technologies available for each location. These two priorities will improve the quality of service to the customer and address the ongoing market failure that is occurring around customer outcomes, without significantly increasing the cost or affecting time frames.

For many Western Australians and Australians, over-the-air television broadcasts have been all but replaced by thousands of gigabytes of streamed data for every connected household. The uptake of this style of viewing grows by the day, and soon it will be by far the majority means of access to watch shows on screens in households throughout the country. This has already put significant pressure on Australia's internet infrastructure, because an area of ordinary life that was previously non-digital is now being delivered by the internet.

These transformations are not limited to entertainment alone. Transformations are occurring in every industry. What was before carried out by non-digital means will gradually transform to become yet another flow of data feeding into a giant and ever-growing stream, and our internet infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. It will be mandatory for a competitive business to be able to interact and participate in an economy driven at all levels by enormous volumes of data. Without that data and the infrastructure to support it, they will not be able to compete on a global scale.

Western Australian businesses without access to reliable high-speed internet connections with far greater speed and capacity than we use today simply will not survive. Equally, Western Australian consumers will not be able to access the best-quality products and services. As global market forces push companies towards data-dependent business models, Western Australians will be cut off from the latest innovations in health care, education, construction, retail and many others. Data connections we establish now are as important to the next 100 years in Australia as electricity was to us in the 20th century.

Evidence is mounting that there are significant issues, shortfalls and inequalities in the state of the rollout of this vital infrastructure in Western Australia, and we take this opportunity to raise them with the committee. We do so in the hope of ensuring that the NBN addresses the ongoing market failure to customers by ensuring that it is responsible and accountable for the quality outcomes. This is critical to ensure that the final result is not an inconsistent, unreliable and rapidly obsolete network but, rather, the ubiquitous high-speed and futureproof infrastructure that Western Australians need and deserve. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Before we move to questions, I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only the asking of questions for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or other factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

Mr Cann, the Western Australian government has provided a submission, which all committee members have received. It is submission No. 180 on the committee's website. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to that submission at this time?

Mr Cann : No, thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: I noted in the Western Australian government's submission a point made in relation to NBN Co.'s interactive rollout map. Committee members are already aware that late last year NBN Co. took down the full three-year rollout map, but the interactive map that remained was further changed in June, according to the submission the WA government has made, and all information relating to fibre to the kerb was removed. Is that something you can tell us a bit more about?

Mr Cann : I originally saw that information from ITnews.com. I had a look at that article, which indicates that that occurred. From my understanding, it still has not been restored to this point.

ACTING CHAIR: Have you sought information or raised that with NBN Co.?

Mr Cann : I have had a conversation with the local NBN corporate affairs manager. I'm sorry, I can't recall the outcome of that conversation around that point, though.

ACTING CHAIR: There are two categories of premises in the Perth metro area that are highlighted in your submission. One is the service class 0 premises. I think you just mentioned that that is now at 23,000, growing by 2,000 per week. They are essentially premises that cannot receive the NBN and will have to receive some kind of bespoke service or fix down the track at some unspecified time.

Mr Cann : Yes. That is from the NBN's weekly rollout update, which shows the figure. I checked it this morning, and I think it was 23,558 premises.

ACTING CHAIR: You say it has been growing by 2,000 a week. If it follows that trend, even by the end of the year it could be as high as 75,000 premises.

Mr Cann : Correct.

ACTING CHAIR: The other category that I am interested in, not least because I have some of these premises in my electorate of Fremantle, is the 1,400 premises well and truly in the metro footprint that supposedly will be getting the NBN via Sky Muster.

Mr Cann : Yes. Again, that was first brought to my attention from the ITnews.com article. They spent a lot of time doing analysis of the maps. I think it was an FOI request they put into NBN Co.

ACTING CHAIR: I am aware of some premises in Wattleup and Banjup, in my electorate, which are very much outer suburban parts of the metropolitan footprint. It would seem very strange if they were to be getting satellite as their NBN or broadband service into the future. Is that something that your department or the government has raised with NBN Co.?

Mr Cann : Again, I had initial discussions with the local corporate affairs manager about it. The answer was around that it is difficult and expensive to provide services to those locations, but no explanation of where the locations actually were, so we are unable to assess that.

ACTING CHAIR: I have looked at some of the premises. Part of what I find surprising is that they are proximate to some new developments that by virtue of being completely new will be getting fibre to the premises. So it is one of those instances where, rather than the national broadband network delivering an equivalent future proof service across the board, in an inner urban electorate like Fremantle you could within a few kilometres have equivalent households, one of which will have fibre to the premises and one of which will be getting Sky Muster.

Mr Cann : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: One other point I want to raise, which you advert to and I think is a very interesting one which the committee probably has not considered much before, is around the fibre-to-the-node technology and how it relates to the business case overall. The point your submission makes—for committee members it is on pages 89 and 90 of our hearing pack—is that as of late last year there were 6.1 million mobile internet connections, compared to 7.4 million line connections. There seems to be some risk, and certainly the submission points to the risk, that if fibre to the node delivers a patchy outcome, with some premises close to the node getting a reasonable service but others further away getting a poorer and poorer service as the distance increases, until eventually they are service class 0, there is quite a high likelihood that more and more households will make the best of mobile internet access, which would leave the NBN potentially with having rolled out a kind of infrastructure—I think fibre to the node will be the dominant line infrastructure type—that will not only be relatively obsolete in terms of what it can deliver but in fact will not even be used by householders and therefore will not be generating revenue as part of the NBN corporate model.

Mr Cann : I think that goes back to the heart of what I was talking about when it comes to a market failure. NBN Co., through the government, took responsibility for those quality outcomes. As I said, they sit on one end of the spectrum, the retail service providers sit on the other and the customers sit in the middle with some of those patchy outcomes. If the government is taking responsibility for delivery of it then it has to ensure that the customers are getting those quality service outcomes that they desire, by making or enforcing the retail service providers to disclose information and by being more transparent. That will go some way to fixing those issues that people are experiencing and allowing them to get access to the broadband services through fibre to the node with the quality that will stop them having to go to other technologies.

ACTING CHAIR: The communication part is important, but there is a point at which the infrastructure just cannot do more than what the combination of fibre and copper will deliver, so if you have a household that is 500, 600, 700 or 800 metres from the node and the best it can get is 15/3 or something, it may be that before too much longer next-generation mobile will provide an equivalent service. You will therefore have infrastructure that, whatever its cost, is not returning for NBN Co. the entity.

Mr Cann : Yes, and the technology deployed has to be fit for purpose for the time. It is not just now that is important: it is fit for purpose for the future. Fifteen years ago the average speed of a broadband connection was I think 56 Ks. Now it is, I think on average in Australia, 7.1. So it is over 150 times faster. If we imagine the future 15 years from now, we may need 150 times more speed than we currently have, which will take us up to 500 or 600 megabytes. Are the nodes capable of that now? No, I don't think they are. It would take a technology change to actually upgrade them and have clear upgrade pass to enable that technology. Whether that involves the nodes at all, I can't say, because technology changes so fast.

ACTING CHAIR: Whereas in New Zealand the evidence we've received is that Chorus is rolling out fibre to the premises. The representatives of Chorus told us that 90 per cent of all new plans are now 100 megabits per second, and 70 per cent are unlimited data. That just isn't something that fibre to the node is going to be able to deliver ever.

Mr Cann : Not at the current technology, no. And that is part of our submission—we would like the NBN Co. to keep abreast of the changes in technology, because the original plans were based on the technology at the time, and technology changes. As we know, they are capable of pushing more and more speeds down fibre and more and more speeds down copper. So NBN Co should take note of that and keep researching that and keep making sure that they deploy the most appropriate technology for each location.

ACTING CHAIR: There is some evidence emerging that the types of multitechnology mix that are being rolled out, rather than closing the digital divide or helping to efface existing disadvantage, may be either fixing it in or in some cases exacerbating it. From looking at some information in my office recently, I know that there are a cluster of five or six suburbs to the north of me in the seat of Tangney which received fibre to the premises. They were households serviced by a copper ADSL network, like most of Perth metro. They got fibre to the premises very quickly. They are suburbs where the socioeconomic position of those communities is relatively high in terms of all the usual measures—average weekly income, educational attainment and so on. Three or four kilometres to the south, in the electorate of Fremantle, you can take another cluster of five suburbs like Spearwood, South Lake, Hamilton Hill, Coolbellup and so on, which are considerably worse off in terms of those socioeconomic indicators. They haven't got the NBN yet, but when they get it it will be fibre to the node. That would seem to exacerbate or further a distinction between communities that are haves and have-nots. Is that something that the Western Australian government is concerned about and is there an opportunity for the Western Australian government to push hard to ensure that what remains of the rollout does not consign some communities to being second-class digital citizens?

Mr Cann : We are concerned about any particular area of the state that is put at a disadvantage through the rollout of poorer technologies. One of the key things for the NBN is making sure that every Western Australian has the economic opportunity and isn't disadvantaged by the services being rolled out, no matter where they are in the state. In particular, to the suburbs you mentioned, I couldn't speculate on that, because I don't have the figures at hand. I'd suggest that's probably something for a university to research. But we do see issues, particularly around the regions, where some towns were initially on the rollout plan as being fibre to the node but now they've been moved to fixed wireless. We don't have much explanation of that. There are places, even on the outskirts of Perth, that were going to be fibre to the node but that have now been relegated to fixed wireless, and there are towns that were fixed wireless that have been moved to Sky Muster. So we don't get any explanation of that.

We would like to engage the NBN about this at a strategic level and a planning level, but we don't have two-way communications with them. The Office of the GCIO does represent the state on matters of the NBN. We are the conduit to the NBN on behalf of all agencies. We have tried to engage them on numerous occasions, particularly to try and talk to the director of the Perth office and/or the architectural staff about the rollout and to have input into the planning of the rollout. Invariably we get the corporate affairs manager coming to a meeting and we have one-way communications. We don't engage with the NBN Co so much as they tell us what they've done. So we'd like more input, but we haven't had the opportunity so far.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you have any engagement with the Commonwealth directly—the department of communications, the minister?

Mr Cann : My minister wrote to the communications minister last month and has received a response.

Senator SMITH: Mr Cann, how long have you been in your role?

Mr Cann : Two years.

Senator SMITH: Did you write the submission?

Mr Cann : I wrote the initial draft, and it went through various versions in our office.

Senator SMITH: Do you agree with the comments from NBN Co in The West Australian newspaper today that—I'll just have a look at them—that said that the West Australian rollout was proceeding ahead of schedule?

Mr Cann : I think Western Australia overall is behind schedule, as per a lot of places in the country, but—

Senator SMITH: No, that's not true, Mr Cann. What's your evidence for it being behind the rollout schedule?

Mr Cann : I think the original time frames published many years ago were what I'm basing that on for the original plans.

Senator SMITH: Based under the rollout schedule of the former Labor government?

Mr Cann : Yes.

Senator SMITH: You are the executive director of the information office and you are basing your information on the rollout plans of NBN Co under the previous Labor administration.

Mr Cann : I'm sorry, I'm basing it upon the original time lines.

Senator SMITH: Of what? The NBN original time frame? I wasn't expecting to have to go through the findings of the strategic review of NBN Co with the executive director of the information office of the West Australian state government. Do I need to step you through those, Mr Cann?

Mr Cann : No, thank you.

Senator SMITH: So, then, why would you be basing your evidence on the rollout plan that was discredited by the strategic review?

Mr Cann : I'm not; I'm trying to—I'm sorry, my understanding is that the rollout was still, even with the current plans, still behind schedule.

Senator SMITH: Mr Cann, can you take on notice for us whether or not the West Australian state government believes that the NBN rollout in Western Australia is ahead of schedule or behind schedule? And, if it believes that it is behind schedule, what is the evidence for that, because you only need to go on to the NBN website, Mr Cann, to see in great detail what the rollout of the NBN in Western Australia is? Do I need to take you through that, Mr Cann?

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Smith, I think—

Senator SMITH: It's on the nbnco.com.au website. Secondly, Mr Cann, can you tell us what the progress is of the fibre-to-the-curb rollout proposals that have received some media attention in Western Australian community newspapers?

Mr Cann : I'm sorry, I don't understand that question—what's the progress of the fibre-to-the-curb rollout?

Senator URQUHART: I'm sorry, Chair—Senator Smith, you've got a lot of paperwork there and you're quoting. Can we have copies of what you've got because we need to—

Senator SMITH: Yes, definitely. This is a newspaper report from the Eastern Reporter which talks about NBN Co plans to roll out fibre to the curb around inner suburban areas in the Perth metropolitan area, and I'm just wondering what your level of understanding is in regard to that particular initiative?

Senator URQUHART: I'm sorry, but I think it's unfair that you're asking the witness—

Senator SMITH: Again, it's a public—

Senator URQUHART: Chair, a point of order.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Smith, the point I'd make is that so far you have put to the witness statements out of newspapers that none of us have in front of us. They're not—

Senator URQUHART: Yes, and the witness hasn't got them in front of him. I think it's totally unfair to ask until the witness has that.

Senator SMITH: Mr Cann, I'd just like to move on then to the question of engagement between the West Australian government and NBN Co. Does all of the engagement in regard to the national broadband network happen between the Office of the Government Chief information Officer—is that the correct terminology?

Mr Cann : Yes, correct.

Senator SMITH: Is that the only point of entry?

Mr Cann : That's the official conduit for the strategic discussions, yes.

Senator SMITH: But it's possible, or not possible, that the NBN Co would be liaising and discussing things about the rollout plan et cetera with other departments across the Western Australian government, like the department of planning, for example?

Mr Cann : If they are, I have not had any indication of that.

Senator SMITH: Can you take on notice whether or not the Western Australian state government, through its other departments and agencies, has been liaising with the NBN Co?

Mr Cann : Yes. There was a notice that went out to all agencies that all those communications were to come through our office.

Senator SMITH: When did that notice go out?

Mr Cann : I think it was late 2015.

Senator SMITH: Late 2015.

Mr Cann : Yes.

Senator SMITH: It's interesting because one of the successes of the WA government's engagement with the NBN Co has been the broadband and distance education working group. Can you tell me a little bit about the WA government's engagement with the broadband and distance education working group?

Mr Cann : No, unfortunately, I can't.

Senator SMITH: Can you just remind me again what your role is in the WA government?

Mr Cann : I am the Chief Technology Officer for the Government Chief Information Officer.

Senator SMITH: Just explain to me: what is the scope of that role?

Mr Cann : We're a strategic group tasked with transforming the way the Western Australian government delivers its IT services to government through government departments.

Senator SMITH: And the provision of education services via broadband wouldn't be a strategic matter that would come across your desk?

Mr Cann : Yes, it would be—not necessarily across my desk but through the office.

Senator SMITH: So you don't know anything about the successful work that is being done in regards to education services access through the broadband and distance education working group?

Mr Cann : I am not aware of that one, no.

Senator SMITH: Can you take that on notice and provide me with some information about that?

Mr Cann : Sure.

Senator SMITH: That would be great. Mr Cann, you mentioned the importance of technology changes and of the NBN Co being abreast of technology changes. Could you just explain to me, in a little bit more detail, what you mean by that?

Mr Cann : As new technologies become available, and they always do, there's always research going on into better and faster technologies to deliver services. I think the NBN Co needs to make sure that it stays abreast of those and tries to implement them if they are value for money, fit for purpose and within appropriate risk boundaries.

Senator SMITH: Given your experience, wouldn't you support a multitechnology mix approach to the National Broadband Network?

Mr Cann : It all depends on the outcomes that they are trying to achieve. I think we recognise that laying fibre to every single premises in the country is probably not feasible; however, we are not here to talk about the mix of the technologies.

Senator SMITH: Is that a personal view, Mr Cann—that delivery of fibre to the premises is probably not feasible? Is that a personal view or a WA state government view?

Mr Cann : It is probably my personal view.

Senator SMITH: Right; okay.

Mr Cann : But we need to make sure that the services that are being delivered are of the quality that is expected and fit for purpose. That is more the state's contention today.

Senator SMITH: Again, that sounds more like a multitechnology mix solution.

Mr Cann : Sorry—your question?

Senator SMITH: I am curious to know: do you support a multitechnology mix or do you not support a multitechnology mix? You have just said that fibre to the premises would seem an unreasonable solution for a National Broadband Network rollout—

Senator URQUHART: In every area.

Senator SMITH: and in your earlier evidence you talked about the need for NBN to be conscious and aware of technology changes. So do you support a multitechnology mix solution?

Mr Cann : I support that we need to make sure that we get high-quality services to every Western Australian, regardless of where they are and regardless of the technology used. So the technology mix being deployed in any particular location has to be fit for purpose. That is what we are after.

Senator SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr Cann.

Mr Cann : Thank you.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: Mr Cann, thank you for your evidence today. You mentioned that your communication with NBN is essentially a one-way street: they just tell you what they're doing. Have you raised with NBN the issues of your level of engagement with them and what you sort of engagement you would prefer to have with them?

Mr Cann : We've tried to have communications with the NBN, as I said, and we invariably have corporate affairs people coming and talking to us. We have asked for higher levels of engagement, but we haven't had that yet.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: What's the response been to those requests?

Mr Cann : We get the corporate affairs.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: You request more engagement and better levels of engagement but you basically just get the corporate affairs people coming out to see you?

Mr Cann : Yes.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: I will just make a quick statement: the original NBN, of course, was also a multitechnology mix. It was, if my memory serves me, 93 per cent fibre to the premises with some wireless and satellite. It was always recognised that it would never be a 100 per cent FTTP rollout. I just want that put on the record. Thank you.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you, Mr Mitchell, for putting that on the record, because I was going to put it on the record as well that it was a multitechnology mix. Can I—

ACTING CHAIR: Please just move to the questions, if you don't mind.

Senator URQUHART: Can I also suggest to you that I think it was last week the chief engineer of NBN Co admitted that they are already looking at technology upgrades from fibre to the node, because they know that it's not going to be sufficient for the future. So I concur with the comment you made, but I always—

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: It's almost already redundant.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, almost already redundant, Mr Mitchell says. You talked about the three things that the WA government thought that NBN should be: simple, connected and informed. Your view was that it was overly complex, disconnected and uninformed. You talked about brand damage. I agree with you on brand damage. I'm not sure that's always the fault of NBN; I will defend them here, because I think sometimes the RSPs—I think you were in the room when Mr Hendry was here with his wonderful leaflet. I think that's fantastic, and there should be a dozen Mr Hendrys around the country who would actually fix some of that brand damage problem, if NBN sought to actually have people on like that even though they don't necessarily agree with everything that's in that leaflet.

I just wanted to ask you, from your perspective, what you see as the role of the federal government in this. NBN is the company that's rolling out the fibre technology. They're not the RSPs. They're not hooking up people to modems et cetera, but they are governed by the federal government; they're under the guise of the minister. What do you see the role of the federal government is in improving some of that perspective to get it back to simple, connected and informed?

Mr Cann : I think one of the biggest issues involving the NBN rollout so far is the lack of transparency, particularly around performance and service resolution. I think what could be done would be to increase the transparency, and that would also increase competition between the retail service providers. Where customers have issues, they speak to NBN Co and then get referred to the retail service providers. In fact in the NBN Co's response to The West Australian article today, they said that customers should speak to their retail service providers. That allows the retail service providers to then just blame the NBN. Some information around what's actually going on behind the scenes would be helpful to allow consumers to make a choice over what the retail service providers are delivering and ensure competition amongst them. That would be key.

Senator URQUHART: Do you think the federal government should implement something to try and deal with that problem? Who's going to do it—if the federal government doesn't do it, who does it?

Mr Cann : The NBN Co has a lot of that information available to it already and could publish that information itself. I'm surprised that they don't do it to help avoid the brand damage that's going on apparently.

ACTING CHAIR: Just on that, the committee has spoken to NBN Co about it and, at the moment, they say that they provide that information to the RSPs, but the RSPs, in turn, aren't under any obligation to provide it to the end user. They presumably use it to shape the kinds of offers that they make across different parts of the country, but there does seem to be a surprising absence.

Senator URQUHART: Mr Cann, so you see a role for the federal government to actually intervene in that process and maybe assist with NBN Co to make sure that they get that level of transparency?

Someone has to do it.

Mr Cann : I think the NBN Co does need to be transparent. I know that the ACCC put out six key principles earlier this year in February. They said that the retail service providers should comply with those principles. From what I have been able to ascertain by looking at what the retail service provider offerings are, only one of those principles have been complied with, and that was the one around: factors known to affect service performance should be disclosed to consumers. The other one is around: what are the wholesale network speeds, theoretical speeds or typical busy period speeds for the average customer that are not being made available to anyone.

Senator URQUHART: I don't want to put words into your mouth, but are you saying to me that the ACCC is not doing the job that it was given to do?

Mr Cann : No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying the retail—

Senator URQUHART: Okay. So tell me what you're saying. I want you to tell me. I don't want to go away from here and interpret what you're saying. I want you to tell me.

Mr Cann : The ACCC put out those six principles for the retail service providers to comply with. The NBN Co, or whoever is responsible, needs to make the retail service providers comply with those principles. That would give greater transparency about what is occurring with the rollout and allow customers to make informed choices.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Cann, I am just going to return to the newspaper article that Senator Smith has now kindly circulated. It does not have a date on it.

Senator SMITH: It was in the last four to five weeks.

ACTING CHAIR: And I take it to be some form of the community newspaper.

Senator SMITH: The Guardian Express, which is an eastern suburbs newspaper.

ACTING CHAIR: It refers to the fact that fibre to the curb—which it wrongly describes as FTTC when we know it is FTTK!—

Senator SMITH: We are officially 'K'!

ACTING CHAIR: is now expected to roll out to approximately 70,000 premises in metro and outer metro areas. It does not compare that figure to what was initially planned. Presumably that is from zero to 70,000—that is good. While that is heartening on the face of it, it is a shame, as you have identified in your submission, that at the same time that that announcement has been made information about fibre to the curb has been taken off the NBN Co interactive map. So there is not much opportunity for the government of Western Australia, its relevant departments, any of us or the wider community to really understand if, where, how and when that is actually going to occur. How are we to understand this? Why would NBN Co be making an announcement like that which is, on the face of it, quite a promising one, yet at the same time taking away the ability of the wider public and stakeholders to see whether it is really true and when it is going to occur?

Mr Cann : It is hard for me to comment on this article. It is the first time I have seen it, obviously, and I don't know when it was published.

Senator SMITH: In the last four or five weeks, Mr Cann.

ACTING CHAIR: Presumably about a week before the material was taken off the interactive map.

Senator SMITH: Ms Amber-Jade Sanderson, I think, would know about this—most certainly.

Mr Cann : In any case—

Senator SMITH: So you do not know anything about the fibre-to-the-curb proposal?

Mr Cann : I do know about fibre-to-the-curb proposals.

Senator SMITH: What can you tell us about it—the fibre-to-the-curb proposals?

Mr Cann : The information has been taken off the interactive map. That is in the submission.

Senator SMITH: No. What do you know about it, Mr Cann?

Mr Cann : In terms of the technology itself?

Senator SMITH: Yes.

Mr Cann : Rather than rely upon copper from the nodes all the way to the distribution point outside of the home, that would be replaced with fibre, and the connection from the distribution point into the home would remain as copper.

Senator SMITH: And what do you know about the rollout plans for fibre-to-the-curb technology here in Western Australia?

Mr Cann : I really don't have much of an idea about it at all because—

Senator SMITH: No idea or not much of an idea?

Mr Cann : I don't know what the plans for the rollout are. The last time I checked the NBN rollout map I could not ascertain what the actual rollout plans were.

Senator SMITH: Have these been raised in the quarterly meetings between the state government, NBN Co and the department of communications?

Mr Cann : I have not been to one of those meetings myself.

Senator SMITH: Who goes to those meetings?

Mr Cann : Sorry, I can't comment on when the last—I think the last meeting was in September last year.

ACTING CHAIR: I think that is a good suggestion, that it would be taken up. Clearly, if it was an announcement made four weeks ago, the next opportunity may not have arisen.

Senator SMITH: You wouldn't have thought to make an inquiry? Will you make an inquiry now that I've raised it here?

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: This is the first time he's seen it.

ACTING CHAIR: He's only just been presented with it, Senator Smith.

Senator SMITH: My question is: will you now make an inquiry?

Mr Cann : About the rollout plan of fibre to the curb?

Senator SMITH: Yes.

Mr Cann : Yes, we will.

ACTING CHAIR: They have put it on paper in their submission that the interactive map has been taken down, which makes it harder.

Senator SMITH: I hope you don't just rely on the NBN website for your information, Mr Cann.

ACTING CHAIR: God forbid!

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: He has given evidence that it's a one-way street of information. They are clearly not telling him anything.

Senator SMITH: Well, we are about to find out that, because Mr Cann is going to provide on notice the details of all the levels of engagement between NBN Co and the state government agencies.

Senator URQUHART: He said he has asked NBN and they don't tell him anything.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Cann, one thing I'll suggest you might consider is this. We had evidence from the federal department about fibre to the curb and the upgrade path in relation to fibre to the node and the growing sense that it may not be future-proofed. And the federal department—it was hard to tell because they were going round and round in circles on the day—appeared to give an indication that they have asked NBN Co to provide them with some form of an assessment of what upgrade of fibre to the node may involve in the future. I suspect that will go to the issue of how much of the remaining rollout can in fact occur through fibre to the curb, rather than fibre to the node. So, in addition to whatever inquiries you make or take up with in your quarterly meetings with NBN Co, you may like to also ask the federal department for some information about the upgrade plan that they appear to have commissioned from NBN Co.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us, from your perspective, about the needs of Western Australia specifically? I know that Senator Smith and I understand—and I think our Tasmanian colleagues would understand also—that Australia is a big place and it is not the same everywhere for everyone. This is the most isolated capital city in the world. Are there some specific aspects of our future social and economic life that are more dependent on technology like the NBN than might be the case in cities, either in Australia or elsewhere, that don't face that kind of isolation?

Mr Cann : As I said earlier, in my opening remarks, it is the remoteness and vast distances we have to cover in Western Australia that provide a disincentive for investment. The NBN is a fantastic opportunity to actually resolve that market failure that has occurred in Western Australia. Providing services at good, high-quality levels to all Australians is the goal. And we want to make sure that those services remain of the highest quality for all of our citizens.

Senator SMITH: The service class 0 statistics that you read out for us—could you just read those out again?

Mr Cann : On the submission, I noted that it was over 23,000 premises.

Senator SMITH: And what is that as a percentage? Did you say it was 5.1 per cent or close to six per cent?

Mr Cann : It was 4.7 per cent.

Senator SMITH: Is it within your capacity to provide us with information about what that percentage figure has been over the last four years?

Mr Cann : Only by going back over the NBN weekly updates.

Senator SMITH: So you are familiar with the NBN weekly updates?

Mr Cann : Yes. That's where I obtained the figures from.

Senator SMITH: Then you would know that four years ago the figure was 30 per cent.

Mr Cann : I can't go back four years because the information is not there now.

Senator SMITH: I am reliably informed that four years ago the figure was 30 per cent, so we have seen a—

ACTING CHAIR: What was the total number that gave you 30 per cent?

Senator SMITH: Well, it was 30 per cent of—

ACTING CHAIR: Of whatever the total number was?

Senator SMITH: Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: That could have been very small. That could have been the first hundred premises.

Senator SMITH: But I think the point is—

Senator URQUHART: The point is: where are you getting your information?

Senator SMITH: Very reliably, Senator Urquhart—you know how it works. I think we can safely say that that percentage figure has been coming down. I think that NBN Co would say that figure accords with their corporate forecasts.

ACTING CHAIR: That didn't sound much like a question, but Mr Mitchell—

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: A point of order. I think it is very important, if a member of this committee is going to cite figures and put them into evidence, that we know the source. I don't think it is good enough to say, 'I have been reliably informed,' and not source the material.

ACTING CHAIR: I think I can say, as the Chair, that things that pass in the transcript of this committee will not necessarily be taken as evidence without further—

Senator SMITH: You're welcome to listen to my Senate contributions, Mr Mitchell.

ACTING CHAIR: I'm not sure when that will occur.

Senator URQUHART: I want to make one final comment. I have had a look at the NBN rollout map for my place in Tasmania. It says I am on fixed wireless, and it is nowhere to be seen. You cannot rely on the maps.

ACTING CHAIR: We will take that as a comment. We thank you, Mr Cann, for your attendance and evidence today. It has been very useful.

Mr Cann : Thank you very much for allowing us to make a submission and talk to it.

Committee adjourned at 16:01