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Former Internet Australia CEO weighs in on FTTC rollout

10 Apr 18

Article by Laurie Patton, former CEO of Internet Australia, the peak NFP body representing Internet users. 

Australia’s government-owned National Broadband Network Company, NBN Co, has started deploying the first connections to the latest technology to be added to its so-called Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) model.

Unlike New Zealand, which stayed with Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), Australia balked and went looking for a cheaper alternative. In doing so, the current Government rediscovered the old rule: you’ll only get what you paid for!

In response to a rising tide of complaints from unhappy customers, NBN Co has now headed for a halfway house. Ignoring the fact that in Australia and New Zealand we use the spelling kerb, they’re calling it Fibre-to-the-Curb.

As the former CEO of Internet Australia, I began calling for the introduction of this new technology about two or three years ago. So it’s great to see it finally rolling out.

Some commentators have suggested it would have been better if it had been deployed from the start. The fact is it wasn’t on the market back in 2009 when the NBN was launched, or in 2013 when NBN Co changed to the current flawed MTM version using Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN).

The advantage of this new technology is the fibre is run through existing ducts under our footpaths rather than to nodes (big metal cabinets) at the end of the street, thus reducing reliance on Telstra’s ageing and often pretty rundown copper wires.

For now, NBN Co will use the much shorter length of copper phone line from the street into homes or businesses.

This will deliver higher speeds than FTTN, but will not be as fast as FTTP. However, in time, an option will be there to replace the copper wire with fibre all the way into the premises.

NBN Co is only rolling out FTTC/K to about 1.5 million premises.

That’s 1.5 out of more than 10 million across the country. For about 40% of NBN fixed-line users stuck with FTTN, there is no sign of them joining the 21st Century anytime soon.

Eventually, though, these customers will have to be upgraded to FTTP or FTTC/K.

Speaking back when I was still running Internet Australia, I noted: “Whoever is in government in 2020, when the rollout is due for completion, will have to deal with our biggest ever national infrastructure debacle. NBN Co will owe the government circa $19 billion, which it’s having to borrow to complete the project and has no way of repaying any time soon."

"Internet Australia’s expert advisors, and others, maintain that within 5 to 10 years the FTTN sections of the network will need to be replaced. No-one seems to know how many billions of dollars this will cost. Meanwhile, millions of hapless customers are suffering from slow and unreliable Internet services”.

In addition, NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow has just announced he’s leaving the company at the end of the year.

My erstwhile colleague and former chair of Internet Australia, Anne Hurley, observed:  “Mr. Morrow has been solidly behind the current flawed NBN strategy. His departure is a perfect opportunity for the Government to take a more sensible approach and look towards a long term solution to the mess that’s been created in recent years."

"The Opposition should be consulted and all efforts made to develop an agreed strategy that provides certainty in terms of service delivery and ensures that we end up at the forefront of global broadband rollouts, not at the back of the field as we are now”.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ditch in New Zealand they’ve worked out ways to cut the cost per installation of FTTP by 50%.

All Blacks, one - Australia, nil.

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