Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Asbestos hurdle in broadband rollout

Design and construction of NBN Co's network has stalled because of the change in government policy and a "significant backlog" of work caused by Telstra's asbestos remediation program.

Construction due to start next month in parts of Melbourne has been delayed until early next year, according to the contractors hired.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in September that NBN Co would meet its contractual obligations by continuing to roll out fibre while the company "conducts the strategic review of the project".

NBN Co has confirmed it stopped design work immediately after the election, but would start issuing work again soon.

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But a spokesman for NBNCo said the construction delay was due to Telstra halting work in May on its underground pits and ducts to deal with asbestos.

But subcontractors warn that the delays have caused a "temporary paralysis" in the rollout and may lead to job losses.

An NBN spokesman said: "Following the federal election, we took the prudent step of not issuing new designs to contractors for fibre to the premises until we had clarity around the new policy. That's only sensible. We will recommence the issuing of designs from next week."

On Wednesday NBN Co changed its fibre rollout map and also took about 500,000 premises around the country off its construction schedule.

These were premises where initial planning had started but actual construction work had not.

Meanwhile, subcontractors to NBN Co's construction partner, Transfield, have started writing to politicians to warn about job losses as work dries up.

A spokeswoman for Transfield directed queries back to NBN Co."Transfield Services is not in a position to comment about the reduction in work packages and contract instructions. Please contact NBN directly, as the decision regarding workflow is completely up to them."

Several contractors told Fairfax Media they were encouraged to ramp up their business and train more staff in recent years to meet the rollouts demands.

But they now faced several work-free months while NBN Co redesigned its network, and may have to start sacking staff.

"As far as we have been told, NBN Co are not releasing any work until the Liberal government does their 60-day assessment and works out which way they want to go," a subcontractor, Hasan Rifat, told Fairfax Media.

"We are all finishing whatever construction work was given to us and were told the next release of fibre serving area module jobs would be in February or March."

Mr Rifat said his company was due to start construction work in West Brunswick in early November, but had been told this would not start until next year.

If construction was delayed, households in these suburbs were unlikely to get fibre to the home connections, despite NBN Co completing several months of pre-rollout work, such as checking underground ducts and network design.

Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare called on the Coalition to honour existing contracts and complete the existing rollout plans.

He said small businesses and households removed from the rollout maps were "the first victims" of Coalition cuts to the NBN.


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