Around 800 NBN Co staff will be jobless after year’s end as the nationwide network builder pivots after completing its “initial volume build” to rationalising its business and mopping up some 109,000 premises that were previously put into its too-hard basket.
The company “exceeded its targets for the build” for fiscal 2020, CEO Stephen Rue said in announcing that the company had connected some 375,000 homes and businesses to the network during the past three months.
This puts it well ahead of its own Corporate Plan 2020-23, with 11.7m premises now ready to connect to the network.
That was well up from the 9.95m at the end of fiscal 2019, and represents the same number of properties that NBN Co had initially expected to hit by mid-next year.
The Corporate Plan projects a total of 11.9m premises will be connected by the end of fiscal 2022 – but getting from here to there will require the connection of around 109,000 sites that NBN Co previously found too difficult to wire.
This includes difficult-to-reach locations, heritage properties and culturally significant sites as well as new development sites where telecommunications services are being installed for the first time.
Staff layoffs have been expected for years as NBN Co completes its primary rollout and winds up its blitz across Australia’s suburbs.
Yet the planned cuts of 800 staff, part of an overall company restructuring that will begin in August, will drop trained engineers into a punishing post-COVID jobs market where recruiters are still trying to figure out what demand will look like.
A recent survey by recruitment firm Hays found that 35 per cent of employers are currently hiring, with tech posting strong demand despite the economy’s overall languor.
Supporting the COVID resurgence
Even as it marks the completion of its routine rollout, experts like University of Melbourne professor Rod Tucker have warned that NBN Co is in a “diabolical” position as it pushes against the limits of the multi-technology mix that Malcolm Turnbull introduced after the party’s 2013 election.
Any such inadequacies are likely to become particularly apparent in Victoria, where five million Victorians this week entered a six-week lockdown designed to stem that state’s explosion of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
With a return to home schooling and extended remote working on the cards, NBN Co has deferred some planned maintenance outages to ensure the network continues to perform up to the standards that have seen it largely managing well over three months of exploding usage.
NBN Co’s move to increase bandwidth by 40 per cent, at no charge to retail service providers (RSPs), was “a major factor in preserving the quality of broadband services for consumers,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims said in releasing its new Critical Services Report analysing user-reported measures NBN’s performance during the time of peak COVID-19 demand.
Videoconferencing applications had proved to “work equally well” over 50Mbps and 100Mbps services, Sims said, with services using Australia-based servers – including Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Skype – providing lower latency than overseas rivals like GoToMeeting, Webex and Zoom.
Video had become critical to not only supporting live videoconferencing, but to entertaining homebound Australians during rolling lockdowns and supporting services such as telehealth – which has seen doctors performing more remote consultations since March than they had previously conducted in the nearly a decade since telehealth was first seriously considered.
“Throughout the COVID pandemic Australians have relied on the nbn to work, study, shop online, stream entertainment and stay connected to family and friends like never before,” NBN Co CEO Rue said, “so we take very seriously our commitment and obligation as a truly national broadband infrastructure provider.”