Copper network in shocking state: Union



blog Who to believe, who to believe? If you accept Telstra’s story about the current state of its copper network, it operates with only minimum faults and is in a good enough state that it could last another 100 years if well-maintained. But one of Telstra’s unions, the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, has another view entirely. This morning it told the ABC (we recommend you click here for the full article):

The telecommunications pits have been nicknamed ‘bag-dad’ by contractors because of the plastic bags, that are in theory supposed to keep the water out. [According to] Shane Murphy, the assistant secretary of CEPU’s New South Wales branch, “… plastic bags and ringbarked cables are everywhere.”

Frankly, we think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, it is true that Telstra’s copper network currently operates with an acceptable level of faults. Most of Australia’s broadband needs are currently delivered by that network, and there’s no reason why most of the network won’t continue to function within acceptable parameters for the forseeable future. However, as those of us who’ve spent any time investigating it will also be aware, that doesn’t mean it’s not a bit of an eyesore, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, many troublespots in Telstra’s network which are limping along with what Murphy would describe as “band-aid” solutions.

We do need a long-term solution to this issue. It’s good that both major sides of politics have policies which will see large parts of the copper network replaced. After decades and decades of stretching this network to its limit … it’s about time.

Image credit: From Delimiter’s ‘worst of the worst’ Telstra copper photo gallery


  1. Hi Renai, most Telstra techs will tell you that most of the issues are in the last mile copper so that rules out the LBN as being a worthwhile policy to solve the problems!

    The issues include next to no doco on which pairs in the pillars connect to what and large numbers of dead and unusable pairs!

    • Hi Djos,
      You statement about no docs isn’t truly correct.
      The fact you saying there is no docs is false, I have worked in data activation in Telstra and the documentation on pits and pillars is amazing.
      Was this always correct. HELL NO.
      There were so many times when techs had to rework the pillar for me to update it. Reasoning being other tech didn’t update information.

      • I didnt say none, I said “next to no doco” and that’s from the telstra tech who fixed the remote battery issue in my street who also spent nearly an hour manually trying to find my pair because the pair my house is using wasnt the pair the doco said it should be!

        • I had a similar experience. It took two weeks for me however (not of work, but delay). The couldn’t work out which was my phone line back at the exchange. Apparently they knew which DSLAMs it was on, so started taking off wires until the ISP told them my line had dropped.

      • Well documented?
        Just recently some local line work resulted in a complete mess with multiple services switched.
        In our case we found ourselves on the local smash repairs number while they were using our number.
        Took over a week to sort out.

  2. The truth is definitely between these two stories, however I doubt that it is towards the middle. Considerable money will need to be spent to ensure any sense of equity is reached in terms of level of service provided to all Australians. This value is upfront and a core feature of FTTH, whilst being an ongoing after thought of FTTN.

  3. Of course Telstra will say it’s fine. Unions represent the guys in pits. One is going to represent perfection, the other utter desolation.

    But to presume the network is “okay” would be flawed. Copper networks do not maintain themselves. They degrade. Record keeping is inconsistent; this is not news.

    I’ve had my active line reterminated twice because of line faults due to a tech re-terminating my active pair to someone else (who also obviously had a line fault).

    Telstra is playing both sides against the middle – as it always has. The network struggles to provide ADSL2+, assumptions it will power Turnbull’s miracle network are – equally flawed.

  4. What I stated in the ‘copper good’ discussion bears repeating here, there are minimum speed standards specified in the Coalition policy document, with two main milestones of 2016 and 2019.

    When the Coalition NBN Co get around to negotiating with Telstra for use of the copper for FTTN those MINIMUM speed requirements will be a known, Telstra has to weigh up what it will cost them to bring up the percentage of the copper that requires maintenance to bring up to FTTN minimum speed standards.
    It may well be and Turnbull has already stated this that if some copper areas are so bad FTTH may be the only economically viable option.

    To look at selective pictures and reports and draw a conclusion that therefore a Labor FTTH like rollout is the only way to go is not very rational.

    I am sure there a plenty of pictures and pit/pillar status reports where FTTN could be installed today without any maintenance required on the residence copper link at all, but we don’t get to see those.

    • Yet it could be quite rational to look at the extent of the poor condition of the network and decide to do the whole thing properly, rather than just band aid up the worst parts.

      • Especially as doing the entire copper -> fibre transition would be cheaper in the long run if done in one hit, upfront, rather than piecemeal over a decade or two. Not to mention leading to a better, more reliable communications system for the country much sooner.

    • What is the point of extra expense to deploy VDSL2+ in some areas, and not others? A node might have a small number of users on it simply because of poor line conditions. That screws with return rates and costs.

      Sure, some areas could have VDSL implemented today; it won’t hit 100mbit, many won’t break 50mbit, but there are a bunch of new sub-devisions it’d work great. You’ll end up with a costly network that doesn’t hit penetration rates required to make any money back.

      Top Hat is only happening because it’s going to cover every single person on that CMUX, or cabinet thus the economic advantage is there, for example. Everyone on that upgraded node will be either a Telstra Retail or wholesale customer – it’s a captive market.

      That goes out the window if you have a mixture of VDSL2+ and fibre within the same coverage area. As soon as you have dropped at least one fibre cable in, you might as well take advantage of scale and run it for the rest.

      I want faster internet as much as anyone. Soon. However a half-arsed patchwork quilt of VDSL2+ and fibre is a waste of money and splitting the workforce will slow both deployments down.

      Never mind NBN co does not own or lease the last mile of copper. Theody has only just expressed another feel-pinion of how great the network is, lest Turnbull assume he can just acquire a commercially owned asset, for no cost.

    • “He is best known for his grandiose and grossly unrealistic propaganda broadcasts…”
      I remember him. It was like his reality was completely different to everyone else. The similarities are astounding.

  5. Bandaid solutions for the clever country building China: yeh, Okeley Dokeley. Vote 1 Murdoch if you wish to remain the worlds quarry: what a marvellous idea from those who inherited most of their wealth and had the luxury of finishing their qualifications part time whilst working for Dad and/or his friends friends…!

  6. I’ve had a fault logged on my line for over 3 months. I still can’t get reasonable broadband, and even though ADSL2+ is theoretically active, the line sync is only ~600/96 and the packet loss is 25%. According to all of Telstra/Optus’s tests, “the line is fine”. We are less than 3km from the exchange, btw.

  7. I have an intermittent but common telephone signal problem at Home that also affects my Internet. Telstra insist it is not a problem and there is no way to speak to a person. God help us if this is the future…

  8. The best part is Malbolm Turnbull hasn’t even factored in the cost of remediating the copper to bring it up to scratch for his solution. +5 billion anyone? But everyone seems to be ignoring that. Why???

    • I’ve been saying this, and asking how much will the CAN cost them, since the day he released his policy.

      The CAN cost question comes in between $19b (as determined by the ACCC) up to $54b (determined by “industry sources” according to the article). Either figure makes a mockery of Malcolms “cheaper” :-/

Comments are closed.