NBN asked to examine copper options while fibre deployment continues, for now

26 Sep 2013

NBN Co, the public-private company overseeing the management and construction of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), will reportedly continue to connect properties to the in-deployment fibre infrastructure, though the new communications minister has called on it to start testing copper-based broadband technologies. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed that long-term changes to the NBN project, including any decision to halt the fibre rollout, will not be made until after three reviews have taken place, those being a 60-day strategic review conducted by NBN Co itself, as well as a cost-benefit analysis and an independent audit. For now though, NBN Co has been directed to ‘continue to roll out the network as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible’, with construction at 300,000 premises expected to be completed. In addition, construction may start at around 900,000 other premises currently listed on NBN Co’s one-year rollout plan, depending on the outcome of the reviews. Commenting on the matter, Mr Turnbull noted: ‘These decisions will ensure there is a steady flow of work on the NBN until well into 2014 … This will provide certainty for contractors and ensure they do not have to demobilise work forces. We expect this period of review will lead to revisions to the timing of the rollout and to updated forecasts. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the NBN rollout has, to date, repeatedly missed its targets.’

As per the most recent forecast revisions, the fibre element of the NBN is now expected to reach 729,000 premises by June 2014, down from a previous forecast issued earlier this year which said that 981,000 premises would be connected. The downgrade has been made, according to an NBN spokesman cited in the report, due to ‘the impact of the five-month halt to remediation work while Telstra reviewed its asbestos handling procedures’. Another local news source, The Age, has also reported that a leaked corporate plan from NBN Co noted that the average cost of running fibre from a ‘fibre access node’ to inside a premise has decreased from AUD7,400 (USD5,138) during the trial period to between AUD2,200 and AUD2,500, depending on traffic management and rock drilling at each site. The new minister, meanwhile, is said to have asked NBN Co to begin work on its 2014-17 corporate plan, while he has directed the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) to start assessing the availability and quality of broadband around Australia with input from the telecommunications industry.