NBN: Stop the nodes, Clare says

FTTN rollout should be stopped in favour of FTTdp or FTTP, Labor’s broadband spokesperson says

Shadow communications minister Jason Clare has used a speech at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney to launch a stinging attack on the use of fibre to the node (FTTN) technology in the National Broadband Network rollout.

The speech by Labor’s broadband spokesperson also hinted that the party may be moving towards a policy of formally endorsing the use of fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp), which involves rolling out fibre closer to premises than occurs with FTTN, and was noticeably silent on the use of hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC).

The current blueprint for the NBN involves the use of FTTN (including fibre to the basement or FTTB) for a large portion of the network rollout. In brownfield areas covered by the fixed line footprint, FTTN and HFC are earmarked to be the two primary technologies.

Under the former Labor government, the plan was for homes in the fixed line footprint of the network to be connected using fibre to the premises (FTTP). Labor is yet to reveal what broadband policy it will take to the next federal election.

The rollout costs of FTTN had blown out, Clare said today. The government underestimated the cost of FTTN because it looked at the overseas experience of telcos rolling out the technology on their own copper networks.

Former communications minister and now prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also underestimated the cost of getting Telstra’s copper assets into shape, Clare said.

“I remember being berated about this by Malcolm Turnbull two years ago when I questioned how much it would cost to fix the copper,” Clare said in remarks prepared for today’s conference.

“He said it had been ‘taken most carefully into account… and very conservative assumptions have been taken’. This was his conservative assumption then - $55 million. And this is what we now know the real cost is - $783 million.”

Clare said that the FTTN rollout was also taking longer than the government had expected, citing internal NBN documents that were leaked to journalists (NBN has said that overall the rollout is on track).

“Yesterday two more documents leaked out of the bowels of NBN Co,” Clare said.

“They reveal that not a single fibre to the node area built by NBN Co under its own steam has been completed on time. The first 40 fibre to the node areas being built by NBN Co are all behind schedule. Every single one of them.”

In areas where FTTN has been rolled out, MPs have been bombarded with complaints about performance, Clare said. NBN has chalked many of these complaints up to under-provisioning of capacity by retail service providers (RSPs).

The 30,000 nodes that will be built for FTTN will cost $60 million in electricity every year and NBN is purchasing more than 10 million metres of new copper for the rollout, Clare said.

“All of that of course – the nodes, the new copper, the repair work on the old copper and the electricity bills – wouldn’t be necessary if NBN Co was rolling out fibre,” Clare said.

Clare pointed to NBN’s trials of FTTdp as showing that it presented a viable, better performing and well-priced alternative to FTTN. NBN has said it will use the technology in limited circumstances.

As a result of leaked documents, “NBN Co has now conceded that the cost of rolling out fibre to the pit out the front of your house is now almost the same cost as fibre to the node,” Clare said.

“The difference is currently about $400. According to NBN Co fibre to the node is now $1600 per home and the cost of fibre to the pit out the front of your house (fibre to the distribution point) is $2000 per home.

“The capex is a bit more. The opex is a bit less – remember no nodes, no extra copper, no extra copper maintenance, no electricity bills. And remember this doesn’t count the cost of coming back years later and rolling out more fibre in fibre to the node areas.”

“The big difference is what the customer gets,” Clare said. “And the difference here is massive.”

“Fibre to the driveway provides download speeds that are up to 10 times faster than Malcolm Turnbull’s fibre to the node network,” he said.

“Given this – if NBN Co can roll out fibre to almost your front door for almost the same cost as fibre to the node and give you much higher speeds – why aren’t they doing it?”

FTTN should be stopped “as soon as possible” without slowing down the rollout, Clare said, and NBN should roll out FTTdp “or even better fibre to the premises”.

The government won’t allow a wholesale shift away from FTTN because it would be “humiliating” for Turnbull, Clare said.

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