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NBN reports positive full year EBITDA once Telstra payments excluded



Finance minister believes NBN write-down would not impact Budget surplus
Finance Minister labels a potential NBN write-down as a political decision.

The company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia has reported its full year results to June 30, with total revenue for NBN up 43% to AU$2.83 billion.

NBN also disclosed that its adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) hit positive territory for the first time, coming in at AU$608 million compared to the AU$103 million loss recorded last year, however this is before payments to Telstra and Optus are taken into account.

The company did not disclose the exact amount handed over to the telcos for access to their networks and ducts, but said it was “around AU$2 billion”. Last year, the payments were AU$1.95 billion, and flowed into a proper EBITDA loss of AU$2.05 billion, and net loss of AU$4.78 billion.

NBN CEO Stephen Rue said the network would be completed by 30 June 2020, with the exception of greenfield builds, complex installation, and culturally significant areas and heritage sites.

“I cannot emphasise enough what a remarkable achievement this is,” Rue said.

“Many years ago, we set out a plan to complete the build in 2020. Today, less than one year away, we can confirm we are on time and on budget.”

See also: NBN moves into Layer 3 with Sky Muster Plus launch

Rue said the adjusted EBITDA number puts NBN on target to become cashflow positive.

“It is imperative that the company maintains its prudent financial management to ensure we can sustainably fund ongoing maintenance and operations of the network on behalf of customers, and to be in a position to upgrade the network as community needs develop over time,” he said.

“We are making great progress with the Business segment contributing more than $388 million in revenue in FY19 and we expect this segment to remain solid and for residential and business customer demand for higher speed tiers to continue in FY20.”

Capital expenditure on NBN was AU$5.9 billion, a 3% increase from last year, while operating expenses grew 7%.

On the connections front, NBN increased its customer numbers by 37% to 5.53 million, and connected nearly 3 million premises to its network in the twelve months to June 30.

Last month, NBN announced it had narrowly beat its own targets for the 2019 fiscal year.

For premises ready to connect to the network, NBN reported 9.93 million against a target of 9.7 million. NBN also reported, at the time, 5.52 million premises were activated on the network compared to its target of 5.5 million.

The company had previously planned to have 11 million premises ready to connect, and 6.9 million premises activated before revising its targets down.

Over recent weeks, NBN and Telstra had engaged in a round of finger pointing over which company was responsible for money disappearing from which company’s balance sheet.

In July, NBN struck out at Telstra’s complaints that the connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charge that NBN puts on bandwidth needs to be scrapped and wholesale prices need to be cut by AU$20.

Read: Australia or Austria, the most expensive broadband plans belongs to one of them

Telstra CEO Andy Penn said at the time it was unprofitable for retailers to resell the National Broadband Network (NBN) at current prices.

“An industry where wholesale prices result in zero margins for the downstream retail providers is unsustainable,” Penn said.

“It will result in higher retail prices, reduced competition and retail providers looking for ways to bypass the NBN altogether — which is bad for customers and bad for the industry.”

Rue hit back describing the wholesale price debate as “the industry gnashing about NBN Co’s pricing model”.

Rue said it should be remembered that NBN is serving the entire country, and it is not just about capital costs, but also ongoing costs to keep it running.

“Let’s not forget that the sum of all NBN Co payments to Telstra was around AU$2 billion this year,” Rue said.

“Our Corporate Plan points to a continuing payment to Telstra for access to ducts, dark fibre and facilities of AU$1 billion annually from FY21, representing 20% of forecast revenues, and continuing for decades after the build is completed.

“This has an obvious impact on wholesale prices.”

ACCC chair Rod Sims entered the fray, and said the value of NBN should be ignored, in preference for how to make use of it.

“We must ignore those who worry about the value of assets that are sunk, and focus on how the NBN can best contribute to Australia,” Sims said.

“A key NBN issue is entry level pricing. If the 12/1 service is priced the same as the old equivalent ADSL service then, we can be assured that those who want a better NBN service are prepared to pay for it, because they otherwise have the backstop of getting pre-NBN speeds and pricing.”

Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann retorted that any potential write-down of the network would be a political decision, and not impact the Budget bottom line.

“A write-down would not impact surplus goal. NBN equity investment was classified as such when it was made,” Cormann said last week.

“A write-down would not cause retrospective re-classification into a grant.”

Cormann added that a write-down is the responsibility of the NBN board, and such action would shift the cost on taxpayers instead of customers.

“Those pushing for a political decision to write-down the value of NBN to facilitate lower prices and higher margins for other businesses are arguing that the taxpayer rather than customers should carry more of the cost burden of services provided by NBN and accessed by NBN customers.”

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2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Review – When you can only choose one



If your dream garage only has space for one car, you could do a lot worse than fill it with the 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback. Not for nothing has the A7 carved out a space at the top of luxury four-door fastback list. Mercedes’ CLS may have got there first, but Audi’s pared-back styling refined it, and the A7 has arguably come to epitomize the “four-door coupe” category.

The RS7 takes that pretty base and packs it off to Marine bootcamp. With an even crisper body kit, more aggressive wheels, and of course a burly twin-turbo V8, the $114,000 Sportback will still cosset just as neatly as an A7 can, but now you get 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque to play with. 0-60 mph arrives in 3.5 seconds, the 4.0-liter engine keeping things going to a top speed of 174 mph or – with the $8,500 ceramic brakes package – 190 mph.

Even among Audi’s handsome line-up, the RS7 stands out. My Tango Red Metallic review car was hardly a surreptitious shade, though the $1,000 sport exhaust’s burble turned heads even before the bright red paint job came into view. It’s wider and sharper in the detailing than the regular A7, trading some of the timeless elegance of that car’s curves and strakes in favor of aggressively gaping grilles and vents.

The $2,750 Black Optic package throws on black exterior trim and gets you the glorious 22-inch V-spoke matte titanium wheels. 21-inchers are standard and would probably help smooth out some of the rumbles over lesser asphalt, though with its standard RS-tuned adaptive air suspension in Comfort mode it’s surprisingly compliant.

Though you could cruise around like that, better to switch to Dynamic mode where the RS7 has the goods to back up its looks. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a sport rear differential and electromechanical progressive steering. You also get four-wheel steering. The combination of raw power and tech means it’s exceedingly easy to make the RS7 go very, very fast.

Some recent S-badged Audi models have been dinged by virtue of being a little too restrained in their sportiness. The RS7 makes no such stumbles. Wet roads, snow, slush, tight turns or lengthy straights, nothing seems to make a difference to how willing the Sportback is when it comes to throwing itself forward and gripping until it’s your nerves, not the adhesion, that gives.

The 3.5 seconds to sixty sounds, frankly, conservative: the RS7 snarling through its achingly rapid 8-speed Tiptronic transmission. But don’t go thinking this red rocket is a one-trick pony for the straight line: the addition of rear-wheel steering and that trick differential swings the power around predictably and potently. It’s a sweet balance of the reassurance of Quattro and the purist pleasure of rear-wheel drive.

I didn’t have the carbon brakes and I can’t say I felt I needed them. The standard steel versions – comprising ventilated 16.5-inch front discs and 14.6-inch rear discs – don’t lack in bite. As for the 48v mild hybrid system, it’s more there to smooth out the stop/start system and keep the electronics running.

As a result, thirst can be an issue. The 2021 RS7 is rated for 15 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg combined. They’re about realistic, if you drive it as you might an A7 but, of course, you won’t.

Inside, the A7’s cabin gets a makeover to leave it feeling suitably special. The core niceties remain: a dual touchscreen infotainment system, with Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium sound, four-zone climate control, power sunroof, and Sirius XM. Audi’s MMI keeps getting refinements: it’s clean and crisp, easy to navigate, and the lower display keeps things like HVAC controls available persistently even if you’re projecting Apple CarPlay or Android Auto up top. Dedicated buttons for the drive modes are joined by an RS button on the wheel, which you can configure to your choice of settings for one-touch access.

The $2,500 Executive Package extends the leather and adds heated rear seats, power soft-closing doors, and a head-up display. There’s a surprising amount of space in the rear, too, even for taller folks, while the 24.9 cu-ft of cargo space is almost the same as you get in an Q5 SUV.

In fact the only frustration, really, is that the Driver Assistance Package is a $2,250 option. That adds adaptive cruise control with lane-assistance, upgrades the active safety tech to include Audi side assist, rear cross traffic, and pre-sense rear, plus intersection assistance. I can’t help but feel like it should come standard, as the parking sensors, 360 camera, forward collision warning and assistance, and lane departure warnings do.

All-in, including $1,045 destination, my review car totaled up to $125,140. Not cheap, certainly, but still less than the starting price of Porsche’s Panamera GTS, and for more power and arguably cleaner looks.

2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Verdict

What drives the RS7 Sportback’s charm is the absence of compromise. Need a luxury ride? Switch to Comfort and waft along. Want to make the most of driver-friendly roads? Hit the RS button on the wheel and get ready for some fun. Need to stock up on a month’s groceries in one go? That big trunk is surprisingly capacious.

For me, that adds up to a worthy candidate for the one-car-dream-garage crown. Indeed if there’s a competitor, it may very well be coming from inside the house. The 2022 Audi RS e-tron GT quattro will have 589 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque and do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds; it’s also all-electric so as well as the everyday flexibility you’ll be able to avoid the gas station, too.

Perhaps, then, the EV is the future. For now, though, the 2021 RS7 Sportback is the sports car of choice for all seasons.

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2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch gets brown leather and a Western charm



For the first time ever, the 2021 Ford Explorer is getting a King Ranch version this spring. The King Ranch name is derived from a ranch in Texas and has been offered in previous generations of the F-series pickup trucks for the past 20 years. As expected from a King Ranch Ford SUV, the newest Explorer is brimming with Western vibes.

“In 1853, Captain Richard King bootstrapped the King Ranch in the harsh landscape of southern Texas until it became a shining example of agricultural and livestock innovation and success, said Lee Newcombe, Ford Explorer marketing manager. “Ford Explorer families can now enjoy a piece of the King Ranch’s renowned craftsmanship and the multigeneration legacy that still thrives 168 years after its founding.”

According to Ford, customers want an Explorer with a more luxurious interior. The newest Explorer King Ranch has standard mahogany Mesa Del Rio leather seats. The front and second-row seats are perforated to add a premium touch, while all seats bear the illustrious ‘Running W’ King Ranch logo. Meanwhile, it also gets a Mesa Del Rio leather armrest with a King Ranch logo insert in the center console.

“Introducing King Ranch’s specialty leather, genuine wood, crafted details, and signature colors to Ford Explorer elevates the SUV’s brand,” said Janet Seymour, Ford color and materials manager. The newest Explorer King Ranch has leather door trim rollovers, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and steering wheel, and various Sapele wood appliques throughout the cabin.

Meanwhile, King Ranch Explorers have a Stone Gray mesh grille insert, bespoke 20-inch aluminum wheels with a Running W center cap, King Ranch badging, quad chrome exhaust tips, and a liftgate scuff plate. The Premium Technology package throws in massaging front seats, a larger 10.1-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment system, and a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system.

The newest 2021 Explorer King Ranch is powered by Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine pumping out 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Here’s some trivia for you: Explorer King Ranch RWD is the first time a real-wheel drivetrain is available with Ford’s 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6.The engine sends power to the rear wheels (4WD is available) via a standard 10-speed automatic gearbox. The Explorer King Ranch can tow up to 5600 pounds, just right for the segment.

Safety features are aplenty in a King Ranch. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 is standard on all Explorer trims. Still, King Ranch gets Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ which comes with adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and Stop-and-Go, evasive steering assist, a voice-activated navigation system, Sirius XM, and speed sign recognition, among many others.

The 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch arrives at dealerships this spring. Base prices start at $53,595 for RWD and $55,595 for AWD.

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Polestar 2 OTA update improves range & charging and adds V2V safety



Polestar 2 owners will find an over-the-air software surprise waiting for them over the next few weeks, with the electric car getting one of its first major firmware updates to improve range and upgrade Android Automotive OS, among other changes. The ability to push out OTA updates that affect not only the infotainment system but active safety systems, the powertrain, and more was one of the key selling points for the Polestar 2 when it launched last year.

It means – as Tesla owners have come to enjoy in their EVs – fewer visits to service centers, particularly to install software patches that would previously have required a technician physically plugging a computer into the car to load. Instead, most of the Polestar 2’s systems can be remotely updated.

According to the automaker, the changes with this new software include the addition of Connected Safety. It’s a V2V (or C2C) system, which effectively allows Polestar and Volvo vehicles to collectively pool their data about road conditions. For example, if a connected Volvo reports that its traction control had to weigh in because of ice on the road, or if another Polestar is involved in a crash that could represent a hazard to other vehicles, that data will be uploaded to the cloud and then shared as a dashboard alert with Polestar 2 drivers.

It’s not the only potentially meaningful change which could make a difference in everyday driving. Polestar says the new Polestar 2 software includes “range improvements” along with “incremental speed improvements for DC charging.”

The automaker doesn’t specify just how much range might have improved, or how fast the charging is now; we’ve got a request in for more information on that front. It could be that, though the peak DC charging rate of 150 kW doesn’t change, the EV’s ability to sustain higher charging rates has improved. Currently, the Polestar 2 is rated for 233 miles of EPA range on a full battery.

Other changes include improvements to Bluetooth connectivity, climate timers, and the 360 degree camera. Unspecified changes to Android Automotive OS have been made too, “and a safety-related bug fix.” Finally, the digital owner’s manual – accessed through the large dashboard touchscreen – has also been updated.

The changes are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what OTA updates could adjust, mind. Future upgrades could cover anything including “stability improvements, charging speed increases, range improvements and new base software,” Polestar suggests, delivered via the 4G LTE modem that also connects the EV to Google’s cloud. They could even enable hardware features currently present on the cars, but not available to US owners, such as the clever adaptive headlamps which the Polestar 2 is fitted with but cannot use due to American regulations.

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