NBN Co chair says copper in 'reasonable condition'

Ziggy Switkowski backtracks on past statements about copper obsolescence

Copper has proven to be more resilient than NBN Co Chairman Ziggy Switkowski once thought, the former Telstra executive has told a parliamentary committee today.

At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network, Senator Stephen Conroy confronted Switkowski with statements he made 10 years and four years ago indicating that the copper network was nearing its end of life.

While the 60-day review of the NBN won’t be submitted to the government until Monday, Switkowski said today that fibre to the node is the most “probable scenario.” An FTTN plan would use copper for the last mile to the home.

However, Conroy noted that 10 years ago, Switkowski described copper as being at “five minutes to midnight.”

Switkowski makes $50,000 a month as NBN Co acting CEO

Switkowski said he had changed his mind about copper. “Copper has since turned out to be more robust than anybody thought,” he said.

“It was an example of assuming that the technology has been around 100 years [and I thought] it would be obsolescent quite quickly. And that proved to be wrong.”

The existing network is not failing, he said.

“There are millions of ADSL customers and services in Australia … running over the copper network delivering speeds up to several to 10 megabits per second range,” with “normal” customer satisfaction levels, he said. “That leads me to conclude the network is in reasonable condition.”

Conroy asked if the NBN project was on track to bring 25 Mbps broadband services to all homes by 2016. A leaked internal NBN Co document has indicated that the deadline is unlikely to be met.

The NBN Co chairman replied, “We are not on target to delivery anything at this stage.”

However, while he said meeting the 2016 target would be “very challenging,” he stopped short of saying the deadline would definitely be missed.

“The most important thing for the NBN to get right is the rollout and the timing of the rollout, and we haven’t got it right,” Switkowski said.

“Part of the problem with the rollout has been asbestos. Part of it has been the overall remediation program. Part of it has been performance on the NBN Co’s part in terms of the design stage, which has been excessively complicated. Part of it has been a poor understanding on the part of the contractors of the challenges of fibre rollout.

“They have all combined to create an issue today where we’re not rolling out nearly fast enough, and that we are in areas of contention with key players of industry that is simply not a position to be in.”

Switkowski gave a few details about the steps that would be necessary to convert the NBN to a FTTN plan.

Renegotiation with Telstra will take “a number of months,” he said. Telstra shareholders and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will have to approve the new arrangement, he said.

Migration of Telstra networks from copper to fibre and negotiations with Optus will also require regulatory approval, he said. Switkowski couldn’t say when that would be finished.

The hearing experienced a broadband snafu when Senator Scott Ludlam, who had been videoconferencing into the meeting, suddenly lost his Internet connection in Perth.

The committee took a short break until Ludlam could reconnect by telephone.

The NBN committee was established earlier this month on a joint motion by Labor Senator Kate Lundy and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. The committee does not include either Turnbull or Shadow Minister Jason Clare because neither are senators.

In the first day of the hearing, Conroy pressed the Department of Communications to confirm that a fibre-to-the-node scheme for the National Broadband Network will result in less revenue for the government.

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Tags FTTNStephen Conroyziggy switkowskifibrenbn cofttpNBNbroadbandcopper

More about Australian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionDepartment of CommunicationsOptus Pty LtdScott CorporationTelstra Corporation Ltd

6 Comments

wieslaw

1

how many shares does ziggy have in telstra?

Paul

2

In four or five years we will have our new network which will be 40 times slower than what is being rolled out in the US today. Feels like my tax money is being well spent.

Greg

3

Well good old Ziggy wearing two hats still, Telstra shareholder and NBN Co boss, this is a huge conflict of interest and any director or board member of NBN should not hold shares in any telco for 6 months prior to being placed on NBN Co board. As for his statement copper is out of date, how can he change his mind now unless Telstra have been giving the ACCC and Government wrong information. This also means Ziggy lied to ASIC and stock market. I shall inform my cousin whom just happens to be a board member of Stock exchange and have Telstra & Ziggy investigated for false reporting of company annual reports.

Jim M.

4

If copper is so robust, why do I lose ADSL connectivity when it rains?

Telstra argues that since I can still make calls, so there is no "line fault". So they have done nothing at all to even investigate the issue.

I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands of customers in a similar situation. Copper that is almost dead, but Telstra insist it is fine because their laughably poor standard about what is "acceptable".

Goresh

5

Greg
"how can he change his mind now unless Telstra have been giving the ACCC and Government wrong information"

Clearly he is saying that Telstra was managed incompetently at teh time he was CEO given that the copper network is apparently in better condition now than under his management.

Irate

6

"If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughingly conservative."
-Arthur C Clarke
We have words written like that which are proved time and time again and then this idiot in charge of the biggest infrastructure program in Australia since the Snowy River Hydro scheme saying "we should keep using old shit don't worry about the future".
The reality is don't worry about the future as all they want to do is f@#$ everything so no one can fix it later (when they are voted out after one term.
The worse of it is they only got in by default, there is no Mandate here. Our copper based internet here is terrible!

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