Without waiting for the results of key reviews, the federal government has formally given new instructions to the company building the national broadband network to use a variety of technologies, in order to save time and money.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann issued a new statement of expectations to the board of NBN Co on Tuesday, effectively cementing one of six options contained in the strategic review released in December.
The review highlighted a multi-technology mix as the best option for building the network. That means it will use a combination of fibre to street cabinets and existing copper to connect premises, as well as all-fibre connections for greenfield estates, pay-TV cables where available, plus fixed-wireless and satellite connections where required.
The previous government had mandated the use of fibre all the way into 93 per cent of premises.
"The government has considered the NBN Co Strategic Review’s report of December 12, 2013 and agrees that the NBN rollout should transition from a primarily fibre-to-the-premises model to the 'optimised multi-technology mix' model the review recommends," the statement of expectations says.
The new instructions were issued before key reviews are completed. A strategic review into the fixed-wireless and satellite parts of the network is still under consideration by the NBN Co board, as is a cost-benefit analysis and the Vertigan Committee report into the regulations of the NBN. These will be delivered mid year.
Tuesday's orders also prescribe that download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second be available to all Australians, and download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second be available to 90 per cent of Australians, "as soon as possible".
Before the election the government said a minimum 25 Mbps download speeds would be available to everyone by 2016.
But it backed away from this commitment after the release of the strategic review.The government now believes 43 per cent of Australians should have access to 25 Mbps download speeds by 2016.
About 91 per cent would receive 50 Mbps download speeds by 2019, and between 65 per cent and 75 per cent would have internet download speed reaching 100 Mbps.
Before the election Prime Minister Tony Abbott said 50 Mbps download speeds would be available to "the vast majority of households" by 2019.