Labor offers free access to Aurora infrastructure for NBN

Election pledge pushes 'fibre-over-power-poles' option for National Broadband Network rollout

If Labor wins the 15 March Tasmanian election NBN Co will have free access to the infrastructure of electricity network provider Aurora to roll out fibre, under a policy launched by Premier Lara Giddings today.

"A re-elected Labor Government would provide NBN Co with free access to Aurora’s infrastructure, which would otherwise generate revenue of $25 million over 20 years," the premier said in a statement.

The state-owned utility has previously made a submission to the Senate's NBN inquiry on the feasibility of stringing fibre along its power poles as an alternative to a more costly underground rollout.

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State Liberal leader Will Hodgman has asked the federal government to consider the plan.

Sean Terry, Aurora's group manager, strategy and government relations, told a 4 February NBN committee hearing in Hobart that Aurora had had "a number of informal discussions with NBN Co" about the possibility of using Aurora's poles.

"The advice from NBN Co. is that they await advice from the government on what is the solution in terms of the technology moving forward," Terry said.

"In terms of Tasmania, we are of the view that the network can be constructed more cost-effectively by leveraging more aerial infrastructure as opposed to constructing new underground infrastructure."

"A trial was progressed by NBN Tasmania in June 2009 and the rollout was completed ahead of schedule and on budget. There were about 4000 premises passed in the trial," David Mier from the Electrical Trades Union told the same hearing.

Federal communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has said access to power poles would only represent a small portion of the cost of an aerial fibre rollout.

The NBN rollout in Tasmania has been the subject of heated exchanges between Giddings, who has called for more certainty about the future of a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network in the state and Turnbull.

Turnbull made a pre-election commitment to honour existing contracts relating to the rollout of the broadband network in the state. However NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski last week told the ABC that contracts for the NBN rollout in Tasmania do not specify which technology must be used.

"Obviously in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all fibre infrastructure," Switkowski said in the interview.

"Post the election and post the strategic review, we've now agreed on a multi-technology model where we'll seek to use a existing copper network where we can. So this year it remains all fibre, at the end of this year it will be a mixture."

Hodgman was yesterday recorded commenting that the shift away from a FTTP rollout for the NBN could cost his party the election.

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