Gosford City Council has sidestepped the high cost of connecting to the national broadband network (NBN) by using a dark fibre network strung along electrical power poles.
The council has used its ‘carrier status’ to negotiate an agreement with Ausgrid to access the national utility’s aerial fibre network. This is delivering 1Gbit/s broadband connectivity, with the potential to increase to 10Gbit/s between the council’s primary and secondary sites in Gosford that have around 300 users.
Seven remote sites with 75 staff – Gosford Pool, Gosford 50+ Leisure and Learning Centres, Central Coast Stadium, East Gosford Art Gallery, East Gosford Training, and Gosford Library – have also been connected to the NBN under an initial pilot program.
In July last year, Gosford City Council was the first local council in Australia to register with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for a telecommunications carrier licence. This enables the council to use its own technology staff to provide telecommunications services, avoiding the need to engage retail carriers.
Gosford City Council is using Ausgrid’s dark fibre at a much cheaper rate than what is typically offered to large carriers, allowing the council to access services it couldn’t otherwise afford.
A comparable service from a retail provider was $750,000 over 10 years compared to less than $130,000 for a 10-year lease with Ausgrid, the council said.
It would have cost more than $600,000 over 10 years to build a fibre link between the council’s primary and secondary sites; or more than $380,000 over the same period to expand its existing microwave network.
Furthermore, the council estimated that it will only cost around $150,000 per annum to provide NBN services to all its locations with 1500 staff – including 60 remote sites – compared to $9 million annually for a comparative retail fibre service.
Jamie Beal, IT coordinator at Gosford City Council, said the council needed to reduce the cost of providing IT and telecommunications services.
“The ongoing cost with the utility provider [for the dark fibre service] is nothing,” he said. “So from a financial sustainability perspective, this can run forever and be scaled up at no additional cost apart from what we plan to put in at the endpoint."
He added that the return on investment for this project is less than two years when compared to the expansion of its existing wireless network.
Chris Gibbs, network and security engineer at Gosford City Council, said dark fibre gives the council the most flexibility to provide network services. “Additionally, as an RSP (retail service provider) of NBN Co, we provide guidance around product development including options around FttN,” he said.
Services provided over the network include the council’s operational information systems and ERP suite, IP telephony, video conferencing, public Wi-Fi, desktop virtualization, and real-time data centre replication.
Gregory Punshon, manager, information management and technology at Gosford City Council, said the council’s data communication needs are growing exponentially and containing costs associated with this growth is a challenge.
He added that telecommunications providers in the Gosford area are not providing sufficient services in the ground that council can use. This was due to the population size and difficult terrain, he said.
“Gosford has a pretty lumpy escarpment around it, which makes it difficult for carriers to install copper and fibre services,” he said.
The new agreement provides the council with full control over the end termination because there’s no negotiation with third parties, "you just put the equipment in place", said Punshon.
“We don’t have to contract the work out and go through the agony of negotiating back and forth to ramp things up. We can now plan for services internally and scale up as we need them.”
Punshon believes that other local governments across Australia – particularly smaller ones – would not currently be able to access broadband services in this way because they don’t have staff with the same technical experience.
“We have enormously competent staff,” he said. "Without our staff, we wouldn’t be able to do anything even remotely as clever as this.”
Beal added that the council is building a team that is highly specialised rather than typical system administrators that “know a little bit about everything".
Gosford City Council is now considering the benefit it can bring to the community using its NBN retail service provider status, said Punshon.
“If there’s a need to promote the NBN into local business, there’s a tonne of things that we could do,” he said.
“If we need to provide public access to Internet services we can without have to negotiate with a telecommunications provider who is just as likely to refuse because there’s no financial return for them.
“We can [provide services] in a way that would be unpalatable to commercial businesses. That’s what local government does – deliver services that people can use,” he said.
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly
Read more: NBN: Good-bye FTTP, we hardly knew ye