NBN: Return to fibre-to-the-home rollout seems increasingly unlikely

Labor tilts towards ‘more fibre’ instead of all fibre

The odds that the National Broadband Network rollout will return to the original plan that called for most homes to be connected by fibre to the premises (FTTP) seem to be slim at best.

Labor leader Bill Shorten and shadow communications minister, Jason Clare, have yet to formally outline the broadband policy that the party will take to the election. However, both Shorten and Clare have given strong indications that a return to an all-fibre model for the NBN is unlikely.

Shorten last week told a Sky News-organised event that the government could do a better job at “providing more fibre in part of the roll-out of the NBN”.

A partial transcription of Shorten’s remarks circulated by the office of communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield reads: “We won’t rip up everything that [Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull]] has done because I think, and it goes back to the fellow’s question before, not everything that the Liberals do is bad...

“So we will do a hybrid of some of what he’s done but we will have in our announcement, which we will be putting out pretty soon, a greater proportion of the use of fibre and we will also look at the proportions of fibre and we think we can provide more of that to more Australians.”

At last week’s CommsDay Summit in Sydney, Clare lashed the government for a blowout in the expected cost and timeline of the ‘multi-technology mix’ (MTM) network rollout championed by Malcolm Turnbull, citing the broadband policy that the Coalition had taken to the last federal election.

Clare also took aim at fibre to the node (FTTN) technology, which is a key fixed line technology being employed for the NBN rollout. Clare didn’t mention hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC), which is another key fixed line technology being employed in the network.

He called for FTTN to be stopped “as soon as possible” without slowing down the rollout.

NBN should roll out fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) “or even better fibre to the premises”, Clare said.

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

Fifield has previously argued that Labor would shift to supporting FTTdp. The technology involves rolling out fibre closer to homes than is the case with FTTN.

NBN has said that it will look at using the technology for connecting a minority of premises — possibly around 300,000 — to the network.

“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 in the remarks prepared for the CommsDay Summit.

“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,” Labor’s broadband spokesperson said.

“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. 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?”

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