Customers left behind on last-century access technologies have been eagerly awaiting more details since NBN announced it would upgrade large parts of its network to a full-fibre offering last September. Unfortunately, that detail has been hard to come by and customers are keen to understand if their crappy NBN Fibre to the Node connection will be one of the 100,000 to be eligible for a free fibre upgrade.
Details have emerged in the last week or so about what that free upgrade might look like, and there’s a (small) sting in the tail.
How to qualify for a “free” fibre upgrade?
At this stage, it looks as if users will need to order a plan speed of 250mbps or more in order to qualify for a free upgrade to full fibre to the premises for free. Why? Well, under NBN’s logic at least, Fibre to the Node (FTTN) and Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) can both offer 100mbps speeds, and it’s only the next step – 250 mbps – which would necessitate a technology upgrade for now.
The outlook has changed a bit from last year, when it was thought that a single speed tier increase would be enough to trigger the upgrade; e.g. going from a 50mbps plan to 100mbps (if your service couldn’t offer 100mbps before) might have been enough.
Now, if you’re on a 50mbps FTTN connection (because it just can’t offer more), ordering a 100mbps service probably won’t be enough; you may need to jump all the way to 250mbps if you want the fibre for free. Unfortunately, it’s just not clear how hard and fast this rule may be.
What are the price implications?
Well, for the next six months it’s going to be a little hard to tell, as NBN Co has reduced wholesale pricing for faster NBN connections, making 250mbps and 1gbps plans quite a lot more affordable.
However, many providers charge between $20 and $30 a month more for 250mbps plans than for 100mbps plans. Over a 12 month period, that’s just $240 to $360 extra. Even if you had to commit to those higher plans for three years (which seems unlikely) that’s just over $1000 – far less than what it would cost to install fibre under NBN’s Technology Choice program.
How can NBN Co recover the investment?
Another change from last year’s position relates to minimum terms and contract periods; while it had been hinted at previously, it now seems much more likely to happen. Being a quasi-commercial entity, NBN Co has to make money, and it can’t do that offering free fibre upgrades with minimal return.
Instead, NBN Co is considering a number of options:
- Minimum term contracts, of the kind used for free enterprise ethernet (NBN EE) connections
- A downgrade / modification fee, so if a user drops below the minimum trigger point for a free upgrade, there may be a fee levied within a certain period (e.g. within 12 months)
- A nominal fee (far lower than the actual fibre upgrade cost) to offset the installation costs somewhat
- Commercial structures giving incentives for certain options (though no one has elaborated on what these might be)
One thing is certain: not wanting to waste money, NBN Co will be looking to ensure that only customers with a genuine long-term need or want for faster fibre will actually get it for free under the proposed roll-out. As usual, NBN Co will consult with its retail service providers on how best to achieve this … but one hopes that the offer of free fibre upgrades will still (mostly) be free.
Have you already upgraded to fibre? Got a build in progress? Let us know your thoughts.