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NBN confirms construction delay, but expert points to bigger problems

Friday, 22 March 2013 | By Patrick Stafford

The National Broadband Network has finally confirmed what everybody already knew – the infrastructure project is three months behind schedule.


The confirmation of a delay comes after weeks of reports construction partners were falling behind, with industry pundits accusing NBN Co executives of tinkering with figures to make it seem the project was still on schedule.


NBN Co also announced the appointment of a new chair yesterday, exacerbating a perception of mismanagement.


Chris Coughlan, an independent telecommunications analyst, told SmartCompany this morning the delay is “probably a glitch” in the long-term planning process of the giant infrastructure project, but said “it’s come at a bad time”.


“In essence the bad PR has been orchestrated by the way the government has set themselves up,” he said.


In a statement, NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley said the delay was due to construction partners not hiring “boots on the ground” fast enough.


“We work closely with our suppliers across all parts of our network to build and monitor their progress to ensure each individual element is ready within the required timeframe,” said Quigley.


“In the case of the volume fibre rollout, NBN Co’s public projections have been underpinned by commitments from our four construction contractors that they would meet the June 30 target.”


The June 2013 Corporate Plan target of passing 341,000 premises is now expected to be achieved after a further three months. The network will only pass between 190,000 and 22,000 premises overall.


Quigley also said the NBN Co will attempt to get the schedule back on track over time through some adjustments to current construction options.


Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the delay is an attempt to avoid scrutiny, with the NBN Co announcing the problems during the Labor leadership spill. NBN has denied this is the case.


Coughlan says the delay isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for the project, but does say it comes at a bad time.


“The project is gearing up now and you can expect these types of blips. With an election coming, it’s really bad timing for this sort of publicity.”


The NBN Co announced the replacement of its current chair Harrison Young with former McKinsey partner and Ten director Siobhan McKenna.


McKenna is the managing partner of Lachlan Murdoch’s investment group, Illyria. The group owns a stake in Ten Network and DMG Radio Australia. She has sat on the NBN Co board for four years.


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.