Govt dismisses call to mandate more fibre in NBN rollout

Govt dismisses call to mandate more fibre in NBN rollout

Slaps down recommendation to mandate greater use of FttC and FttP in the remainder of the rollout

The Federal Government has dismissed a Parliamentary recommendation calling for the use of more fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) and fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) technology for the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Late last year, the Parliamentary committee conducting an inquiry into the rollout of the NBN released a report effectively recommending that more fibre be used in the remainder of the network’s rollout.

Specifically, the committee recommended that the Government mandate that NBN Co, the company behind the NBN rollout, complete as much as possible of the remaining fixed line network using FttC at a minimum, or FttP, and require NBN Co to produce a costed plan and timetable under which that would be achieved.

A largely optical fibre-based network drawing heavily on FttP tech was the previous Labor Government’s preference for the project as it was initially introduced in 2007.

The move away from a fibre-heavy network to an ostensibly more affordable multi-technology mix (MTM) approach was a major point of difference between the incumbent Labor Government, and the Liberal-National Coalition, which ultimately won the country’s vote.

Now, the Government is unsurprisingly standing by its commitment to its preferred MTM rollout approach, rejecting the recommendation in its official response to the report by the Parliamentary committee.

“The Government considers that [NBN Co] has the expertise to make decisions about how best to roll out the NBN, and there is value in allowing the experts to use their discretion to choose he most appropriate technology to ensure the network is rolled out as quickly and cost-effectively as possible,” it stated.

It should be noted that a previous proposal by NBN Co executives to convert its four million premises-strong fibre-to-the-node (FttN) footprint, which uses Telstra’s legacy copper cabling, to FttC technology, was knocked back by both the Government and the company’s own board, according to a report last year by media outlet, iTnews.

As it stands, as of October last year, NBN Co expected to serve an initial one million premises with FttC, with estimates that the technology will cost around $2,900 per premises to deliver, compared to $4,400 for FttP.

“It is this flexibility, provided under the MTM approach, that has meant [NBN Co] has been able to adjust its approach and roll out FttC to one million premises, and why it has also signalled that it will continue to use [FttP] where it is the most appropriate and viable technology option,” the Government said in its response to Committee’s recommendation.

At the same time, the Government also dismissed the committee’s recommendation to implement a mandated framework aimed at ensuring best-practice NBN installation, as part of an “active handover” model, based on the methodology of New Zealand telco, Chorus NZ.

The idea behind mandating an “active handover” model was thought to ensure that premises would be assured of network capability at the point it is ready-for-service, with repeat visits and remedial costs avoided.

During the inquiry, representatives from Chorus NZ told committee that its model meant that, following a customer ordering a broadband service through an  network retail service provider, a three-stage installation process occurs, involving two or more visits where the homeowner needs to be present.

This involves a scoping visit, where a technician will meet with the householder to talk about what the installation will look like and where the customer would like to have the optical network terminal placed inside the home.

The next stage relates to an external build process, connecting the fibre infrastructure from the street to an external termination point on the customer's property, while the third part sees an internal installation visit, where the service is connected within the home and testing occurs to ensure the service is working properly.

It was suggested that this approach could ultimately be a more economical installation process for NBN Co, as it would reduce additional callouts.

However, the Government said in its response that the recommendation is “based on incorrect assumptions by the committee regarding the similarities and differences of the networks and technologies in the respective countries [Australia and New Zealand”.

“With different technologies being deployed here in Australia, and on a vastly different scale and timeframe, comparisons between the two rollouts are of limited value,” it stated.

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