Pressured Turnbull agrees to aerial FTTP trials in Tasmania



news Under siege from all sides of politics over the Federal Coalition’s reluctance to pursue a full Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband rollout in Tasmania, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spoken to NBN Co about the possibility of conducting FTTP trials in the state that would test Labor’s plan to deploy fibre on aerial electricity poles.

Many Tasmanians believe the Coalition, specifically Malcom Turnbull, committed the Coalition’s Broadband Network rollout (CBN) in the state to a full FTTP deployment during last year’s Federal Election. However, in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise; stating only that a Coalition Government would honour construction contracts signed by NBN Co. Some Tasmanians took this statement to mean that the Coalition would commit to a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state.

The Coalition has always stated that it preferred a Fibre to the Node and HFC-based alternative to Labor’s NBN project. In mid-December, NBN Co delivered its Strategic Review, recommending that Labor’s all-fibre approach to its broadband network be replaced by a mixed FTTN/HFC cable/FTTP approach under the Coalition.

Speaking on ABC Radio in Tasmania last week, NBN Co executive chairman Switkowski confirmed Fibre to the Node would be used in Tasmania. “Obviously in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all fibre infrastructure,” he said. “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.”

However, the issue is still a hot one in Tasmania, which is shortly slated to head to its state election. At this stage, every political party in Tasmania has lined up in support of a full FTTP broadband rollout in the state, including Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman, who said last week that the broadband issue could lead to the Liberals in the state losing the election.

Subsequently, Tasmanian Labor Premier Lara Giddings offered NBN Co free access to the overhead power poles of state-owned energy utility Aurora to incentivise a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state, as part of a package of technology policy promises associated with the State Election.

The deployment style mimics a trial carried out back from 2005 under Giddings’ watch as then-Tasmanian Minister for Economic Development. Called tasCOLT for the Tasmanian Collaborative Optical Leading Test-bed, the trial deployed optic-fibre broadband to some 1,250 premies throughout the suburbs of New Town, South Hobart and Devonport. At the time, Tasmanian electrical utility Aurora provided the infrastructure, with its retail telecommunications arm TasTel providing ISP services over the network.

A detailed report on the trial was published by TECC in October 2008 (PDF). It found that the trial had been successful and the learnings incorporated into the Federal Government’s rollout of the comparable National Broadband Network project, which was still being considered by Kevin Rudd’s Cabinet at that time.

In a press conference yesterday in Sydney, Turnbull acknowledged that he had spoken personally to Hodgman about the issue, who had pressured his Federal Liberal colleague to consider the FTTP option.

“There is a series of tools, and what we’ve said to NBN Co is you are free to choose the best technology for the particular locations. And if we can use, for example, access to Aurora’s poles, electricity poles, to reduce the cost of FTTP, it may well enable us to do more FTTP in Tasmania,” Turnbull said. “… We’re certainly looking at it, but equally we’re not going to make irresponsible economic decisions.”

And then this morning on ABC Local Radio, Turnbull said: “We’re taking the proposal on board and we’re doing quite a bit of work at the NBN CO now to see if we can progress that idea of some trials and really test this proposition that Tasmania’s different and the cost structure is different because of these aerial assets.”

I’ve been saying for quite some time that NBN Co must seriously consider deploying more aerial fibre, based especially on the TasCOLT trial. As I wrote for Delimiter 2.0 in mid-November last year (paywalled):

“NBN Co’s Strategic Review process gives the company an unmissable opportunity to re-evaluate the early decision to deploy its FTTP network primarily through Telstra’s underground ducts. The company and its new Coalition masters must now seriously consider deploying more fibre aerially on power poles in an effort to speed up its rollout substantially.

… Tasmania has form in this area. The State Government’s TasCOLT project saw several thousand households in several metropolitan areas in the state receive aerial fibre deployments constructed by state-owned energy utility Aurora Energy in 2006 and 2007. According to a report published in 2008, the model was successful, and Tasmania gained key learnings from the deployment that would aid in future rollouts.

Now the state is proposing that that concept be extended throughout the NBN rollout in Tasmania, in an effort to ensure that it receives FTTP broadband across the state under the NBN, and not inferior FTTN options. It’s a model Tasmania has proposed before — back in 2007 and 2008, when Kevin Rudd’s first Labor administration was examining a nationwide FTTN rollout in partnership with industry, as the first NBN plan. And now it’s back.

The thing which NBN Co’s team of executives, analysts and consultants needs to realise when considering the aerial FTTP model, as compared with the underground FTTP model which it has largely been pursuing so far, is that the model makes a hell of a lot of sense not just for Tasmania, but for the wider national NBN rollout in general.”

So with the TasCOLT experience already live to some 1,200 premises in Tasmania since 2008 or so, why the hell do we need to do further trials? It’s not like the results of that trial are not already available.

One further thing I will add: It is rather audacious of Turnbull and Hodgman to try and chalk this one up as a Liberal victory. Hodgman has only just recently drunk the FTTP “kool-aid”, after all … it was Giddings that worked on the TasCOLT project back in 2005, when the Premier was Tasmanian Minister for Economic Development. And she’s been very active since that time.

That’s almost a decade that Giddings has been pushing to get FTTP in Tasmania, and if aerial FTTP does come, it will have been almost entirely on her watch. I don’t recall Hodgman having done a lot for Tasmanian broadband in that time, and it’s a little cute of Turnbull to claim that he was persuaded by Hodgman on the issue. My view is that the fact that the issue is such as huge one on the State Election might have had a teensy weensy little bit to do with it.

Image credit: Screenshot of ABC broadcast of Turnbull press conference yesterday


    • What people don’t know is that the pole rental is the cheap part. Testing and repairing the poles to a standard which they can bear the weight is really expensive. Expensive enough that out is in most cases cheaper to install ducts.

      • Most poles are being replaced with cement ones. Even in the country where I have family they have been replacing all the wooden poles with cement ones. Doing a really quick job too.


    (should people deem it necessary, we may optionally take the advisement of the consideration of a non-binding proposal for aerial FTTP towards an investigation phase for an inquiry into the situation for stakeholder feedback)



    Edit2: Liberal Party is best kind of party – is a Broad Church Party!

      • 300,000 people sign a petition and many millions are of the same opinion – the majority of the country, let’s face it – and the response is basically “this isn’t democracy, get fucked”.

        Months later, 1 person in a minor spot of trouble – the likely worst result being him keeping his cushy job – and takes an hour before a concert to talk to Turnbull and suddenly Turnbull is “I’LL LISTEN TO HIM – LET’S PRETEND WE’RE CONSIDERING IT FOR THE NEXT MONTH, HONEST PINKY SWEAR LULZ :)”.

        The words I have for the utter lack of morality, decency or sensibility can be transferred neither through ASCII nor Unicode nor via basic HTML formatting.

        I’m starting to really hate representative democracy, I really do.

  2. We’ve got lots of aerial fibre in Riverstone, and I think most people still haven’t noticed yet. I haven’t heard a single complaint from any of the locals or neighbours. It was rolled out so fast that it’s a case of blink and you’ll miss it. Hopefully the Turnbull rhetoric will slowly turn to “Look! We’ve achieved all these cost savings and by our sheer brilliance have rolled out speeds 10 times faster than our previous plan!” It solves sooo many problems for him.

    • Yeah, if common sense somehow magically prevails I don’t care who claims the victory.

      The hope is that the trials show fibre is king, as they should, and they do it, and the rest of the states go “excuse me? me too!”.

      But really I suspect this is just a state election vote grabber, and what’ll happen is Turnbull will frame the requirements just right so that some time after the state election is done fibre will be deemed “not worth it”.

      • he already has – its only an offer for a ‘trial’ and even if taken up once that is done he is under absolutely no obligation or compulsion to complete the rest of the state build the same way, especially if the state LNP win. really, we already know they think the whole thing is pretty much ‘not worth it’ – they are only going through this CBN exercise because they have to.

        if they want to skive off and leave people hanging, i see precious little to hold them back…. i dont trust the change of heart for a second. i’ll believe it when i see it finished, basically. and this time it cant be a nebulous promise like last time – leave no room to weasel out of obligations again.

      • The urony Liberal voters in Tasmania won’t remember it was the Labor party who pushed for FTTH for years, or how close the Liberal party was to denying Tasmanians access to it despite the fact construction contracts were already in place.

  3. Or the trial will simply show the savings over fibre through Street ducts and pits are only marginal and overall fibre is still to costly in comparison FTTN. It’s important to pay close attention to Turnbull’s language – he’s going out of his way to give himself redundant escape clauses. He’s saying it might be feasible, so we’ll look at it, but it will only go ahead if it is ‘economically viable’; even if it does go ahead, it is only viable because Tasmania is somehow magically unique – just because fibre is strung from poles down on the magical island where physical and economic laws work differently does not in any way mean it will be feasible back in the real world…

  4. They only just pulled this ‘say anything to win election’ crap 6 months ago. I seriously hope people don’t believe it this time!

    • +1

      Placate the masses w/ false security and then go back to your “statements” that you never promised anything past the “testing”

      Sorry guys every politician does this. A “test” does not guarantee any full roll out. The *only* parties that would have done that was Labor and Greens. Unless the Coalition actually actions something to the same effect as the other two I don’t believe any of these “tests” will lead to anything concrete at the end of the by election.

  5. In the town where I live in QLD, we’ve got our phone lines strung up on the poles then running down the poles to the pits and pipes so I fail to see the problem with doing the same to fibre.

    In a perfect world, all cables would be underground, but it ain’t, so why are we making a great big deal of it?
    Get the fibre strung up on the poles already. If the electricity companies complain too much, up the rent for ground the poles are in, and give the difference back to NBNCo.

  6. So when Mal stands on the platform with Hodgman and promises FTTP for Tasmania will there be a proviso that the Libs have to win the election, or will the Abbott govt continue to “govern for all Australians”.

    I know which one my money’s on.

  7. I will lay London to a brick that if the LNP win Government in Tasmania, this option will be off the table faster than a speeding bullet! Rupert will NOT be happy with little Malc…….

  8. There you go, political pressure can persuade even the most pig-headed (possibly corrupt) of politicians. If the Liberals believe that they will get wiped out over the NBN then they will quickly change their tune, even if it means denying Telstra the spoils they have been working so hard to get Malcolm to provide.

    The lesson for everybody else is, if you care about an issue, harass your local members until they are scared their lifetime of entitlements for 8 years in parliament is in imminent danger.

  9. Call me a sceptic but I wouldn’t say this is a victory for the pro FTTP crowd. Malcolm Turnbull has a history of making statements like these to attempt to quieten his most vocal critics. An example of this is when he mentioned that Fibre on Demand will be available on “his” NBN and also his appointment of Simon Hackett to the NBN Co. board.

    My guess is he’ll wait till the storm dies down and then write aerial FTTP off as being too expensive.

    • Hit the nail right on the head, Steven. In my reckoning, Turnbull has zero credibility due to his constant backpedaling (if only our bits per second were as high as Turnbull’s backpedals per second) – right now I wouldn’t believe Turnbull if he told me that rain is wet. All Turnbull has said is “we’ll think about it”, but my prediction is that after the election he’ll say “sorry, it’s too expensive.”

  10. Let’s all read it again…

    “Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spoken to NBN Co about the possibility of conducting FTTP trials in the state that would test Labor’s plan to deploy fibre on aerial electricity poles…”

    Note: ‘possibility’

    As such… I can now surmise that in the future (possibly just after the Tassie election) if/when the above doesn’t actually happen, Renai once again having to remind us all that “in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise”…

    Surely we aren’t all going to fall for it again, are we?

      • Indeed and as you’d know… I could suggest likewise :)

        Just making sure those who did, aren’t naive enough to fall for the same trick again…

    • I would say yes…

      But we *are* talking about the voting public here? Throw them a small bone as a distraction and everything is all hunky dory again =P

      Of course if Labor is smart they can shift focus on MT’s history of “not saying misstatements” and that what he says is not guarantee it will still happen and use this as an example of what he did during the Federal Elections.

  11. So Turnbull has now changed his mind with an election pending in Tasmania. Will the same thing now occur in WA? Will we suddenly start seeing infrastructure quality assessments being made to rollout FTTP in safe Liberal seats and/or marginal seats?

  12. And then after the Tasmanian election, he says the trials showed it was not worth it and they LNP will continue with the FFTN CBN in Tasmania.

  13. Weasel words from a weasel…

    Never trust an ex merchant banker people, they are genetically programmed to lie for a living…

    • Don’t forget he started out as a lawyer.

      So you need to apply the following: Integrity of a (Merchant banker + lawyer + politician) / 3

  14. The only way that Tasmanians will get the full FttP rollout will be to re-elect Lara Gidding’s government after extracting a promise from her that the Tassie government will go it alone with the rollout.

    Negotiate with NBN co to take it over completely, with all the associated risks. Create a Qango and raise the money by selling government bonds, just like our state governments did in the past. They will then own it, and recover the costs and pay back the loans like NBN Co planned to do.

    An aerial rollout will reduce Telstra’s chances of holding it up, and make it cheaper.

    For Heaven’s sake, how on earth did our states build infrastructure in the past? By selling bonds to raise the money. Are our memories so short?

    Forget Turnbull – he speaks with forked tongue.
    Forget Hodgman. Once he’s in he’ll forget whatever he promises anyway..

    • I think you’re right. I’m hoping enough of my fellow Tasmanians agree with the above, but the dire polls suggest otherwise. Most people have just had it with the Labor/Greens minority government and blame them directly for our high unemployment rate and struggling economy.

      I don’t trust anything Turnbull says and haven’t for years, but I’m trying to keep an open mind about this trial. Only because it makes so much sense from an economic perspective, and if the coalition are serious about “cheaper and sooner” then they have no good reason not to continue with it (of course they can always make a reason up though). As unlikely as full fibre rollout over power poles may be, its the only hope I have of getting FTTP this decade.

      • What I do find amusing is there has been a few major businesses leaving Australia since the Coalition got in power and the *country* is defending these federal decisions….

        And yet we couldn’t hear the end of X businesses closing during Labors term w/ the GFC. I stand by my theory that the voting public are still sheep =P

  15. Aerial was used during stage 1 in NBN trials in Midway Point, Smithton and Scottsdale. Depending on timing, they either did the aerial drop first or the NTU got installed and prepatched into the next splitter port. Just when the second part was done, it would be confirmed if it is active.

    I can still see aerial cables a kilometre away in Midway Point..

  16. Turnbull is unhappy with the cut of his pink tutu, while looking the peasant’s gift horse in the mouth. Why don’t the peasants understand Turnbull cannot let anyone to see him ride?

    It would prove that he could ride. And riding after he said he can’t, well that sir, is the end of the world in his mind. You think this is ludicrous selfish behaviour until ah … remember the pink tutu.

    The magic trick we are about to see is enough rhetoric to cover replacing a pink tutu with a suit, in public no less, and discovering the horse riding was Turnbull’s idea.

  17. People, please read what he said, not the headline.

    All he has said is the “POSSIBILITY” of conducting a trial, not ACTUALLY doing one.

    “Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spoken to NBN Co about the possibility of conducting FTTP trials in the state that would test Labor’s plan to deploy fibre on aerial electricity poles.”

  18. He may not have explicitly promised fttp but he did say he would honour existing contract.

    But when you change the contract it is not exactly the same contract you told everyone you would honour.

    Promising apples, delivering oranges and say “hey all I promised to you was fruit”.

  19. What sought of sucker would you have to be to believe Turnbull on this? , a very sad one I would imagine.

  20. WA is under-grounding it’s aerial infrastructure because it is proven to save shite loads of money.

    But on the eastern sea board, we are wishing to install more…

    What a weird and whacky world we live in.

    • Underground power and comms is better long term, but aerial cable is quicker and cheaper in the short term. Given the LNP are the very epitome of short term focused politicians is it any wonder that we’re seeing such insanity?

    • Anthony, the reason for WA putting aerial infrastructure underground is because it has been a major cause of fires in the last few years because Western Power don’t perform maintainenance like they used to.

      I’m in one of those underground power areas but we’ve got plenty of trees lining the street if Malcolm would like to trial running fibre between them instead. Sadly we don’t have a state election close by where the broadband issue could be used to kick out a Liberal government (though Colin Barnett is doing his absolute best to make it a solo effort by pissing each and every WA person off with his wasteful government).

  21. I Must Admit I Feel Sorry for Mal

    Here is a man who is obviously highly intelligent and would love to provide us with world class broadband, but each time I see him trying to sell this unsellable piece of crap foisted on him by Abbott he obviously knows he’s been sold a pup and that Abbott has made sure he will end up in a political backwater, never again to be seen as a credible Liberal leader.

    From the minute he announced the policy he has had that look on his face that only jilted lovers normally show.

    It’s as if the NBN of his dreams is on the other side of the room, but has decided to elope with that cad Tony, and Mal knows that once Tone’s had his way with her she’ll be a twisted and broken woman and feel as he feels now. And the only place for her will be on the scrapheap.

    I can feel his pain.

    But, no, fuck him, it’s his own fault. He’s let Australia and himself down by allowing himself to be conned by a simpleton. I really don’t give a shit about the toffee nosed git. He’s useless. And so is his new website. A crock of shit. Like his NBN.

  22. Vote for the Abbott/Turbull clowns based on this contrived double speak & you deserve to be kicked in the teeth twice, wisen up Tasmania you deserve better than these idiots can ever deliver.

  23. I worked installing the first NBN trial in the suburb of midway point in Tasmania, every home was FTTP from Aurora poles, no repairs were necessary and the aerial drop cables from the pole to the house are extremely light balanced buy the pull of the incoming power wires etc .one change to the installs would have made it quicker and cheaper to install , run the drop cable to satellite mount/mast and go through the roof to the wall like a foxtel install , they were using facier mounts and every home was different making it unnecessary difficult we were still doing 20-30 a day.
    To may chiefs not enough indians

    • I tried… but my brain couldn’t read past the part where Abott et al. blamed the Labor/Green for stopping the NBN roll out.

      I’ve had enough reasons to loose my head and swear this week. I don’t need another reason to go on heart medication pills.

  24. Don’t believe a word he says, he’s just buying some time till the state election is over.

    Thankfully I already have my FTTP.

  25. “Trial”.

    Sounds like the Minister for Internets, is stalling. Again. His policy is toxic & lacking direction.

    Liberal members are increasingly under pressure from their constituents whom are obviously starting to be heard. There is division on this, and it’s only going to get worse.

    Turnbull needs to, frankly, pull his head in and get on with the job he was elected to do. Or get out of the way so his department can.

  26. It’s pretty obvious that they’ll run the trial (that won’t finish until after the election) and then decide to just go with their own ‘Mongrel Mix’ plan…they have a lot of form in that field…

  27. possibility, possibility, possibility
    Yes Malcolm, No Malcolm, here Malcolm have a banana.

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