Understanding Build commenced...

At the end of October, NBN Co changed the way they marked the start of an NBN area's construction. Previously, NBN Co started plotting physical network boundaries for areas where "Construction commenced" — while now, only areas where "Build commenced" are defined. For the purpose of this post, I will be referring to the "Construction commenced" and "Build commenced" definitions as being metrics.

Difference between Build and Construction

Both definitions were readily available on the NBN Co rollout map during each metric's use on the Rollout Map. I've created a table with the two definitions at the bottom of this section — but this is a more detailed and digestible graphic.

Metric Definition
Construction commenced Construction commenced relates to the phase of work in an area where contract instructions have been issued and our construction partners can commence work on detailed design and field inspections. It also refers to the date that NBN Co releases the rollout map for your area and signals the beginning of engagement with your local community and council.1
replaced by…
*new* Build commenced Build commenced means that NBN Co has issued contract instructions to construction partners so they can commence work in this area. The build commenced boundaries are subject to change as a result of boundary changes which may be made during the construction process.

What difference does this make?

There have been many arguments for and against this change. Let's run through them, and I'll comment on what I think:

Claim: It's more accurate.

Neutral. The new metric is definitely more accurate now as it reflects the Coalition Government's new Interim Statement of Expectations to NBN Co:

[…] NBN Co should continue existing construction where build instructions have been issued to delivery partners. Any further build or remediation instructions should not ordinarily be issued pending further analysis and discussion.
Source: http://www.communications.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/186115/130924_NBN_Co.pdf

However, to say that the map was more accurate than the map provided by NBN Co during the previous Government… that would be wrong in my opinion. Let's look at what the word accurate means:

accurate: free from error or defect; consistent with a standard

Neither metrics are more accurate than the other. Both metrics provide indication of a certain stage of construction, or the lifecycle of an FSAM (Fibre Serving Area Module). Both metrics are clearly explained and detailed on the map itself, and so… it follows and is "consistent with a standard". So for anyone who actually bothered to read the map (now, and before) — it wouldn't be too hard to understand what each means.

Claim: It's more precise.

False. The new metric is in no way more precise. In fact, the current map is arguably less precise than the previous map because the future of the NBN is dependent on the Strategic Review currently being conducted.

precise: marked by exactness and accuracy of expression or detail.

I think the key here is the detail. The current map provides reduces the amount of detail on the map. Essentially, any fieldwork conducted by a contractor prior to the issuance of the build contract instruction is regarded as being non-existent on the map. You'd be kidding me to say that rodding/roping and pit/duct inspection is not physical work.

However, I wouldn't call either metrics as being detailed. The "construction commenced" metric is not detailed, but covers a wider range or period. The new "build commenced" metric disregards any field work prior to the issuance of the build contract instruction, but doesn't provide any further details.

Claim: It's more transparent.

False. It's neither more precise, nor accurate. For the maps to be more "transparent", I'd say more information or more detail would be required. This new mapping dataset only shows areas which have progressed further up the timeline in regards to the FSAM lifecycle. One way to improve transparency in the map would be to plot each area with a different status depending on the actual construction progress. i.e., marking each FSAM with:

  1. Physical Design
  2. Design Acceptance
  3. Build CIs issued
  4. Telstra Remediation Commences
  5. Actual rollout commences
  6. Testing and activation
  7. Ready for service

Sure, it'll take more manpower to do it. However, even if one or two of those statuses are reported… it would improve the overall transparency of the map.

Claim: It shows areas FTTP has been removed!

False. We don't know what the result of the strategic review at NBN Co will tell us. Government directives will push for a more mixed-technology based approach, employing FTTN technologies rather than FTTP in some areas. But what actually happens will depend on the result of the strategic review and subsequent renegotiations with Telstra.

Basically, we don't know who won't get FTTP. If you're not on the map, it doesn't mean you won't get FTTP — it simply means that NBN Co and the Government have yet commit contract instructions to build your area.

Claim: It shows areas where build as commenced

False. Unlike what some politicians have asserted, the new metric shows areas where work to build the Local and Distribution Network of the FSAM can commence. It indicates that NBN Co has approved the Detailed Design Document (or the detailed network design) and that the construction partners can start rolling out the fibre at any time.

Malcolm Turnbull: It’s when the construction contract is signed with the particular contractor for a specific area. And yes, the shovel will hit the dirt, as it were, immediately thereafter.
Source: http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/meet-the-press-why-labors-claims-are-missing-out-on-the-nbn-are-wrong

It would be inaccurate to say that "the shovel will hit the dirt… immediately thereafter". CIs are often issued once NBN Co approves the network design — but not necessarily where there is construction capacity. Let's take Taree, NSW for example. There are two FSAMs where detailed network designs have been approved and contract instructions have been issued for:

  • 2TEE-02 — Taree (Taree West), Tinonee
  • 2TEE-04 — Taree (Chatham North)

When those contracts were initially signed around June, there was no capacity for construction in Taree. The majority of the contractors were still held up further north in Coffs Harbour, where construction is still ongoing. It was not until early November when ducting and fibre started hauling in 2TEE-04. In fact, 2TEE-02 is not slated for completion until September 2014.

Build commenced means that NBN Co has issued contract instructions to construction partners so they can commence work in this area.
Source: http://www.nbnco.com.au/when-do-i-get-it/rollout-map.html


The new maps aren't particularly more detailed, nor more precise, nor more accurate. It's simply reflective of the current Government's interim position and expectations for NBN Co. I wish to see a more detailed construction information to be provided by a future NBN Co once their Strategic Review is over. To say it's more precise, or more detailed — they should display when each stage commences:

  1. Physical Design
  2. Design Acceptance
  3. Build CIs issued
  4. Telstra Remediation Commences
  5. Actual rollout commences
  6. Testing and activation
  7. Ready for service

The maps did cause widespread panic. And it's justifiable panic considering the sudden removal of over 60% of areas. A more appropriate move for NBN Co would have created two sets of shading: "Awaiting review" for areas where it was previously marked as "Construction commenced" as well as the new "Build commenced" metric. This would have alleviated some of the anger and confusion… to some extent.

There's still a lot of room for improvement. Realistically, NBN Co needs to improve its overall transparency… while we do get new statistics, a significantly substantial amount of public data has actually been removed. Malcolm needs to live up to his election promise of a more transparent NBN Co. From all I can see, transparency has overall decreased so far. But that's for another post, for another day.

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