FTTH the best solution, says French IT Minister


Fleur Pellerin, ˆ Paris le 30 octobre 2011

news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s French counterpart has labelled Labor’s preferred Fibre to the Premise broadband rollout style as “the best technology” for broadband infrastructure due to its technical merits and long-term potential, during a flying visit to Australia associated with NBN Co’s signing of a key contract with French satellite giant Arianespace.

Fleur Pellerin has, since May 2012, held the post of Junior Minister for Small and Medium Enterprise, Innovation and the Digital Economy in the current French administration led by French President Francois Hollande. Pellerin is a member of the country’s ruling Socialist Party, which, like Australia’s Labor Party, is fundamentally a social/democratic organisation born out of the union movement.

Several weeks ago the French Government announced that a combined €20 billion investment would be made in fibre broadband technology in the country, representing a combination of public and private funding. One of the issues being debated in the country at the moment is how it will be able to “terminate” its existing copper networks entirely in the medium-term, as it transitions to fibre. The aim runs counter to plans proposed by Australia’s Opposition under Tony Abbott, which plans to re-use much of Telstra’s existing copper network on an ongoing basis.

In a speech this morning associated with NBN Co’s awarding of a $300 million satellite contract to French company Arianespace, Pellerin said she was “very impressed” by Australia’s own NBN project promulgated by the current Labor administration.

“We are in exactly the same process at present in France because the President had committed in the Presidential campaign to deploy the very high speed broadband on our territory in the next 10 years. So we are facing the same challenges as you do in terms of financing and in terms of technology,” Pellerin said, according to notes supplied by NBN Co and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s office this morning. Delimiter did not attend the event.

“And also we will have some satellite in France because we also have – even if our country’s smaller than yours – we also have rural and mountain areas and remote areas that are difficult to cover with fibre optic, even though we have also made the choice of the fibre optic to the home because we think it’s the best and the most sustainable solution to bring quality, very high speed broadband to the people.”

Following the speech, Pellerin took questions from journalists at a subsequent press conference. One question the politician was asked was whether she saw France’s own broadband network as giving it competitive advantage for the country in Europe.

“Absolutely,” Pellerin responded. “It’s been proven by many studies that the attractiveness of France is based on the quality of its infrastructures – roads, trains, planes – but also electronic communications. And definitely the very high speed broadband is a factor, is an important part of the effectiveness of the country. And that’s why we choose also the best technology, I mean what we think is the best technology because, as you know, Fibre to the Home you don’t lose the quality of the signal according to the distance. So it’s definitely the best solution, technical solution.”

“And it’s funny because we have the same debate in France as you have here – about what technology should prevail. Should we do some more vectoring because it’s cheaper? But we think maybe today we don’t realise what kind of speed our citizens will need in the mid-term.”

“But with e-health, with e-education, with smart grids, all these new uses that are not plain, not developed today – you will need maybe in the next five years or in the timeframe that you don’t expect today – you will need these speeds. So I think it’s a very good investment to choose the best long-term technology.”

French interests
In August last year, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull disclosed a direct financial investment in French incumbent telco France Telecom, which is one of the principle telcos in the country upgrading its network infrastructure at the moment.

The investment was disclosed through the Parliament’s Register of Members’ Interests, which requires parliamentarians to disclose financial investments and gifts. In Turnbull’s latest disclosure, he noted that he had personally made an investment in international telcos France Telecom, Sprint in the US and Spain’s Telefonica.

Speaking to Lateline at the time, Turnbull said that he “obviously” didn’t invest in telcos in Australia because of his position overseeing the Communications portfolio for the Coalition. However, he said, “I don’t have any conflict with France Telecom, and I thought their shares were good value so that’s why I bought them”.

Turnbull has also come under fire with respect to the investments for what some have seen as an investment position at odds with his political views.

Lateline presenter Emma Alberici noted during her interview with Turnbull that France Telecom was rolling out fibre to the home to some 15 million premises in the country, in a similar deployment to Australia’s own fibre to the home NBN rollout. Turnbull sees the NBN deployment as being overly expensive, and has repeatedly emphasised he would prefer a more inexpensive fibre to the node style deployment, similar to the deployment being carrier out by BT in the UK.

“Why have you made that investment?” Alberici asked Turnbull. “Obviously you think their strategy is a good idea, and yet you don’t think the Government’s same strategy in Australia is a good idea? It’s curious. But you haven’t equally bought shares in British Telecom, which is the company you’ve just been telling us is doing the right thing in not taking fibre to the home?”

In response, Turnbull that as an investor he was focused on investment returns. “I’m not making political statements every time I make an investment,” he said. Alberici fired back: “The Government is considering investment returns, isn’t it, by taking fibre to the home and owning the infrastructure company, or owning the majority of shares in the infrastructure company, that achieves that?”

In a separate exchange on Twitter with telecommunications journalist David Braue, Turnbull was asked whether buying France Telecom shares implied there was profit to be made from fibre to the home rollouts. “Not necessarily,” said Turnbull. “Their FTTP rollout is pretty modest and I thought the shares were good value.” Braue subsequently lampooned Turnbull’s share buying habits in a commentary on ZDNet. “Turnbull’s position on socialism is now clear: Australian socialism is evil, but French socialism is a great investment,” he wrote.

In a media statement at the time, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy heavily criticised Turnbull for what he said was “rank hypocrisy”, saying it was time for the Liberal MP to “put his mouth where his money is and back fibre to the home”. “Mr Turnbull wants to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars to fund the Coalition’s second-rate fibre-to-the-node network, but when it comes to his own money he is more than happy to invest in fibre-to-the-home,” Conroy said. “This is rank hypocrisy by Mr Turnbull. He is trying to lock Australians into an inferior broadband network, while investing to future proof France’s digital economy.”

“It is time Mr Turnbull put his mouth where his money is by supporting Labor’s roll out of the NBN’s fast, affordable and reliable broadband to all Australians. If Mr Turnbull truly believes that British Telecom’s fibre to the node network is the best broadband model, why doesn’t his updated registry of members’ interests show recent investments in BT?”

In a further defence of his French investment, yesterday Turnbull published a statement on his website inviting those questioning it to examine why France Telecom was able to deploy fibre to the premises “for one twelfth of the cost of the NBN”, stating that the speed and cost-efficiency of the France Telecom FTTH rollout made Australia’s NBN Co “look even more like a snail”. “If FTTP could be built in Australia for costs comparable to those stated above, there wouldn’t be a debate about doing it,” wrote Turnbull. “It is not a question of FTTP vs FTTN in abstract, it is a question of the relative cost and benefit of each technology in each market.”

I am hardly surprised by Pellerin’s comments about FTTH, and I highly doubt that her visit to Australia this week was intended purely to show the French Government’s support for Arianespace’s win with NBN Co. After all, does Australia’s Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson head overseas every time BHP picks up a multi-hundreds of millions of dollars deal with a company headquartered in another country? No.

My bet is that the Arianespace deal has been basically finalised within NBN Co for some time, and that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, knowing about this and also about French President Francois Hollande’s high-profile broadband speech several weeks ago, offered to bring Pellerin to Australia to support their mutual goals. It looks good from both sides, and after all, Pellerin and Conroy are broadly of the same political bent.

Does hit mean Pellerin’s comments are not valid? No, of course it doesn’t. Pellerin’s right — FTTP is the best broadband technology out there in the long-term, and obviously, although I’m sure Conroy’s office gave hints as to the direction he would like her comments today to go, the French Minister has complete freedom to say whatever she wishes.

But the irony is pretty amusing here. Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s been asking for Australia’s media to cover international broadband deployments more for some time. And now it will — but only the right kind, as approved by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Plus, it’s also particularly tough for Turnbull to comment on this one, given his direct French financial interests, which will also be raised by the media this week. Overall, very nicely played by Conroy — almost worthy of Francis Urquhart. He’s playing directly to Turnbull’s weaknesses with this one.

It will be interesting to see what Turnbull comes back with. Perhaps he can get one of the British secretaries of state out to Australia to discuss what BT’s doing with Fibre to the Node? That shouldn’t be too tough an ask; given that the UK Government is currently ruled by the Liberal Democrat/Conservative Coalition. Your move, Mr Turnbull.

Image credit: Nicolas Reitzaum, Creative Commons


  1. I look forward to the inevitable special pleading about how France doesn’t count becasue of reasons x, y and z. I also look forward to Turnbull citing overseas broadband examples (such as France) as to why FttP is the best solution too… oh wait he already did that :-)

  2. “In response, Turnbull that as an investor he was focused on investment returns.”

    Anyone who is buying shares in a listed company, should always look at what that company is involved in, in regards to its future prospects in making money and returning a dividend on that investment.
    If they don’t seriously look at what that company is involved in, then they either don’t care if they lose the money, or they are stupid.

    “I’m not making political statements every time I make an investment,” he said.

    The very fact that Malcom has invested money into a company which is deploying FTTH, means he has confidence that it will make its money back, and that the company aren’t making a risky move which will lose the company value.
    This flies directly in the face of his assertions that the current NBN FTTP rollout is too expensive.
    It is a political statement, however it is obviously one that he isn’t wishing to stand up in front of Tony Abbott and tell the world about.
    He has absolute confidence that France Telecom has made the right choice in deploying FTTH and making money from it. Obviously he’s a chickenshxt coward, and won’t even admit that much.

    • Well France Telecom is not JUST about FTTH, under its Orange retail brand it sells many products, like many Telco’s the world over including Telstra and Optus its main earner would be mobiles and wireless data.

      Also for investors it’s not all good news.

      ‘France Telecom Profit Falls on $2.5 Billion Impairment Costs’

      ‘Shares of France Telecom, the worst performer on France’s CAC 40 Index last year, fell 32.4 percent during the past 12 months.’


      • “‘Shares of France Telecom, the worst performer on France’s CAC 40 Index last year, fell 32.4 percent during the past 12 months.’”

        and yet, Malcolm says it’s a good investment….food for thought…

          • Yes, it is. Just like any project. Risk is an inherent part of any investment.

            Your point was?

          • So is FTTN. So is buying property. Every investment carries risk. Banks can and do go bust.

            If Turnbull considers it such a risk, why invest? Reason? He believes there will be a financial payoff. When the Lord of the FTTN decides it’s a good idea, you have to question why this is even a debate any more.

          • @Brendan

            ‘If Turnbull considers it such a risk, why invest? Reason?’

            But France Telecom is not JUST about FTTH, it is rolling out VDSL as well.

            ‘In Poland, the Group also invests in high-speed broadband by deploying an alternative technology, the VDSL (Very high bit-rate DSL). This technique uses the existing copper network and permits to offer speeds up to 40 Mbit / s and 80 Mbit / s. The first commercial offers have been launched in 2011. The deployment of VDSL will continue in the coming years to expand the geographic coverage in this country.’


          • Actually, it’s write downs of it’s Polish subsidiary which is the old establishment telco there. So the point might be that it’s the PSTN that’s the risk at the moment, not FTTP.

  3. Turnbull’s investment choice in Fibre is a personal choice. He is perfectly free to invest in anything he chooses (obviously conflict-of-interest portfolio related choices not withstanding, IANAL).

    However, that personal choice has induced an obvious conflict of interest between stating FTTN is the better, faster solution over FTTH such as being built by NBNco.

    It sends a mixed message; in short, it devolves Turnbull’s repeated statements on the NBN to “do as I say, not as I do”. It makes a mockery of the entire situation.

    You don’t invest in something your Party is strongly opposed to and then presume no-one is ever going to call you on the obvious double standard.

    Once again, though, Turnbull, who is adept master at this, simply side-steps the question. It’s okay though, we get the message loud and clear. Turnbull believes in FTTH. It’s his party that doesn’t.

    Unfortunately, it’s clear the LNP is hell-bent on demolishing it.

    • Both Turnbull and Abbott have stated they will not demolish it, in fact Turnbull has reiterated that all NBN contracts will be honored, that’s a hell of a lot of NBN rollout post September that will keep going,

      I noticed that Labor are resurrecting that tired line again recently, I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.

      • alain, this is a ten year fibre rollout, of which less than a third will be contracted by the election. That’s a helluva lot of people still denied fibre.

        • The ‘denying of fibre’ as you put it is a unknown as we don’t know what the Coalition FTTH/FTTN review/CBA process will tell them, communities fast tracked onto FTTN for example might disagree they are being denied anything.

          • Considering the widespread approval of the NBN project I find that hard to believe Alain. Wouldn’t it be better to “fast track” under served communities with FTTH where technically possible, or to put it another way, exactly what NBNCo are trying to do now without the Coalition meddling?

          • alain,

            How do you fast track FTTN when Telstra has said it won’t renegotiate the NBNco deal?

            How do you fast track FTTN when you don’t have a policy, costings, or even bother to set a target coverage?

            How do you fast track FTTN when the NBNco don’t own the CAN?

            How do you fast track FTTN when you haven’t identified who will build it?

            How do you fast track FTTN for those whom wireless or satellite are the only option?

            How do you fast track FTTN when there’s no indication of technology choice?

            How do you fast track FTTN when there’s no policy?

            To suggest this is, frankly, laughable.

          • Fast track as it is technically faster to deploy which Telstra have stated it is.

            If and when they actually do it is another can-of-worms.

          • How do you fast track FTTN when there’s no indication of the actual state of the subs loop infrastructure.

            Telstra Management look at statistics and accountant summaries. All the way down the line KPI’s are used as mangement tools and the reported statistics do not necessarily present an accurate picture. Remember they are Fault rectifying to USO obligations, so no maintenance reports

  4. mmmmmm. I am sure there is no question to be answered here about insider trading. Of course he had no knowledge about a pending government move to FTTP that the company he invested in will probably pick up some huge contracts.

    Call me cynical but ……..

    • Not insider trading, but the move to run FTTH was released before he bought them. He played it down at the time saying it was only a small area but the reports stated that they planned to do the whole country by 20/20. Of course MT didn’t mention those reports.

    • I’m pretty cynical about politicians generally, but I think there was a bit too much time between MT’s purchase and a clear insider trading case.

      But on the other hand if you look into the history of politicians, land deals, deals between business and government going from 150 years back to now there are particular families and particular political parties that come up again and again. The imaginative create things for the benefit of everybody, bastards become politicians.

      There are some good ones around and they desperately need our support though, not blanket cynicism.

      • I just had a chuckle to myself thinking what role Malcolm is playing because he has displayed tendencies on both sides (being a decent elected official or a party-line hack) . He’s a bit like the Darth Vadar of politics. Let’s hope the NBN isn’t the equivalent of the jedi younglings before Anakin went dark side on them.

  5. At last the satellite deal is signed – 2 years I’ll have the same speed or better than cities in Australia. I’m on NBN satellite and it is the only way I can get Internet access. Not fast at present 5mb down max, 1 mb up max, but often only 1/4 to 1/3 of that.

  6. It seems a little unfair to assume that ‘our’ FTTN deployment is the same as every other FTTN deployment.

  7. yesterday Turnbull published a statement on his website inviting those questioning it to examine why France Telecom was able to deploy fibre to the premises “for one twelfth of the cost of the NBN”, stating that the speed and cost-efficiency of the France Telecom FTTH rollout made Australia’s NBN Co “look even more like a snail”. “If FTTP could be built in Australia for costs comparable to those stated above, there wouldn’t be a debate about doing it,”

    Has anyone done the analysis on this? Has MT backed himself into a corner here? I find it incomprehensible that the French deployment could be even half as expensive, like-for-like, let alone 12x cheaper. Obviously the NBN is gong to be more expensive overall as it is much larger (in both size and scope) and heavily subsidises regional premises to ensure maximum deployment without incurring unjustifiable cost blowouts (hence stopping at 93% fibre as wireless & satellite far more cost efficient for last 7%) – the French equivalent isn’t as geographically challenged as Australia’s NBN. But what are the real figures here?

    • Let’s not forget it is the incumbent using their own infrastructure, systems, backhaul, transits, ducts, pits etc. Plus smaller land area and denser metro and towns and cities
      The same reason incumbents can do FTTN cheaper than we could hope to

  8. Aside from the size difference between implementations, I guess the French gov’t doesn’t have to pay the likes of Telstra to get rid of the copper network, hence the cost wouldn’t be as high.

  9. Despite what Malcom would have you believe, GPON P2MP Fibre optics is NOT the best technologically available system for last mile access.
    It is also not the most expensive.
    It is also not the slowest.

    This medal belongs to P2P Active Ethernet.
    A giant switch in the headend, where you have one port dedicated for every person that has a single, dedicated fibre running into their house.

    It is basically an Optical to Electrical converter, at whatever media line rate you want.

    I understand this is a slight segue, however its a point that needs to be bought up next time someone says that the Labour plan is the most expensive, slowest solution to last mile access.

    Quite simply, it is many factors cheaper than the creme of the crop, P2P Active ethernet.

    Renai, please, as one working for an equipment vendor (full disclosure..), I implore you to raise this point at least once, Turnbull gets away with telling everyone who is within earshot that GPON is the devil for both cost and time, when it really isnt.

    A full P2P deployment can cost as CHEAPLY as 4 times the ammount of P2MP (GPON), and this is just the equipment, let alone the MASSIVE ammounts more room required, cooling, and the monumental task of managing all that excess fibre.

  10. Is Turnbull saying when he wins Government he does not have the management skills to administer the NBN Fibre to the Home program as efficiently as the French?

    • No, he is saying a private/government partnership could roll out FTTH/FTTN faster and at less cost.

        • Less cost in terms of Government debt, the private partnership would be expected to financially back the rollout and help mitigate the risk on ROI.

          The availability of funding now is not nearly as tight as it was during the GFC, remember this was one of the reasons the Labor RFP was cancelled in 2007/2008, this was also enforced by the Government auditor which reviewed the RFP process in detail at the request of Senator Minchin.

          • Exactly. However, the actual physical roll-out cost will be same, within a margin of error. And the idea that it could be done “faster” is dubious. The only way it can be done faster is if the terms of the partnership a) reduce the footprint to be rolled out to, as in NZ where Chorus and other partners are only required to rollout to about 70% of the population, and there are no plans for them to expand beyond that, or b) by using a technology to save costs like FTTN using the existing twisted pairs, as done by BT in the UK.

            Also, a public/private partnership is usually done by subsidies rather than investment which means the government rarely sees any of that ROI. So Malcolm’s belief is based upon too presumptions: a) that FTTN is viable interim solution in Australia and b) that he can utilise existing assets, like the HFC networks, to reduce the footprint of the rollout as much as possible.

            Which reminds, what was one of the other reasons the RFP was cancelled in 2007/2008? Oh that’s right, a panel of experts determining that a FTTN solution would not meet the needs of Regional Australia due, in part, to our lower grade copper lines and longer average line lengths.

      • It took Telstra 2 years to fibre up just South Brisbane, Im pretty sure a switching the NBN from FTTP to FTTN, by a private company, will NOT make the rollout finish “sooner”…it’s more likely to be epic fail, much like Labor switching to the Liberals “Stop the boats” plan (which has failed to stop any boats what so ever…thanks Greens for your part in that!!).

          • If by that you mean “They’re won’t shut down existing FTTH” you’re correct, but that’s a strawman argument against tinman_au.

            If by that you mean “There is no policy tabled staying they’ll stop FTTH”, there is no policy tabled full-stop, but Turnbull has repetitively pushed FTTN so it is a reasonable assumption to make.

            So what precisely is your point by this statement?

          • The point is the Coalition have stated they will leave the existing NBN FTTH rollout intact AND honor any existing rollout contracts.

            How you conclude that the term ‘ intact’ means they will replace FTTH with FTTN fro m that stand point is beyond me.

          • So instead of apologising to tinman_au for misunderstanding him and attacking a strawman, you accuse me of making the same argument? Classy Alain.

          • alain, can you point to the statement from Abbott that clears this point of yours?

            Turnbull suggesting it, is not the same as a Policy that discloses the same outcomes. You cannot both state that the outcome is yet-to-be-determined and determined and have that as a logical outcome.

            Abbott is still claiming the NBN is a waste. Turnbull doesn’t have a policy. Turnbull has admitted they “may” have to honour agreements. He has also stated LNP would seek to move to a FTTN deployment.

            NOTHING is written into policy. So it’s still entirely a crap-shoot. Why you persist in making statements on behalf of the LNP, when they’re not making them, is beyond me.

          • So why the insistance that contracts be written such that the LNP Govt can change them.
            This would mean the contractors would have to factor this into their tender/pricing, possibly doubling their price to cover the risk.
            Plus MT has stated he would seek to change existing contracts where possible

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