NBN Co today announced that it temporarily pausing orders on HFC portion of the network in order to improve network quality and reliability. As such, Australians set to connect to the National Broadband Network over HFC could see delays of between six to nine months on top of current wait times. NBN Co will provide new timing information for customers set to connect via HFC "in the coming weeks".
The pause also applies to residents in ready-for-service NBN areas who haven't taken up a connection. Nearly one million Australians are currently able to connect to the NBN via HFC, but only 370,000 have purchased an NBN service to date. The remaining 600,000 or so will have to wait until NBN Co finishes its upgrades in their area before being "ready to connect" again.
Customers already on HFC NBN connections will be able to use their internet as is. Residents in NBN HFC areas will be able to stay on their existing pre-NBN connections until NBN Co unfreezes the rollout. As such, any cut-off dates will be extended as necessary.
NBN Co says the "incremental field work" will be applied to existing HFC areas first. When these are up to snuff, NBN Co will continue with the rollout as per its existing build order.
NBN Co expects three million premises will ultimately connect to the NBN via HFC.
Despite the delays, NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow says the company is still confident that it will finish building the National Broadband Network by 2020.
On the face of it, the HFC freeze is a terrible look for NBN Co. Critics will almost certainly use it as ammunition against the much maligned multi-technology mix, the network builder, and the LNP government. The optics aren't great.
But while a longer wait for Australians connection to the NBN over HFC is unfortunate, we think the decision to freeze new orders is ultimately a good call. If NBN Co is able to genuinely improve the quality and reliability of the HFC portion of the National Broadband Network, that's a win for subscribers. For most, getting a "working" NBN connection on day one will be a much better experience than starting with a poor connection and the promise of future improvements.
This isn't the first time NBN Co has had issues with HFC connections, with the company cutting 700,000 premises from the HFC rollout map at the end of last year. These 700,000 premises represented the Optus HFC network, which was described as "not fully fit for purpose" in leaked documents. The ex-Optus HFC premises will instead connect to the NBN via FTTC technology, and we wouldn't be surprised if more HFC premises get swapped to FTTC as the build progresses.