Back to the drawing board: Tasmania re-heats eight-year-old tasCOLT plans



news The Tasmanian State Government has dusted off plans up to eight year old to string optical fibre cables over power poles in a bid to speed up the deployment of National Broadband Network infrastructure in the state.

Eight years ago, in September 2005, then-Tasmanian Minister for Economic Development Lara Giddings announced a project, called tasCOLT for the Tasmanian Collaborative Optical Leading Test-bed, which was to deploy a trial of 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 was to provide the infrastructure, with its retail telecommunications arm TasTel to provide ISP services over the network.

The fibre was to be strung from power poles rather than deployed in pits and pipes under the ground, as the National Broadband Network is predominantly being deployed, and would terminate at premises at the same location as existing power lines. The troal as a whole was to cost $10 million.

At the time, as an article penned by this writer for ZDNet detailed, the impetus for tasCOLT to be carried out was generated from the findings of a scoping study undertaken by the Tasmanian Electronic Commerce Centre (TECC) for the Tasmanian Government in August 2003. TECC is a collaboration between the Tasmanian Government and the University of Tasmania, and received funding from the federal government’s National Broadband Strategy under the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA).

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.

“The ground work carried out by the Tasmanian government through its participation in the tasCOLT project has placed it in a unique position amongst all other jurisdictions to lead the deployment of FTTP communications infrastructure in Australia,” the report stated. “The Australian Government through its National Broadband Network initiative could realise large scale deployment of FTTP in a Brownfield situation today through partnering with the Tasmanian government to undertake an expansion of the tasCOLT experience.”

“The state possess the experience, commercial understanding and development potential to implement a large scale deployment of FTTP to all of its major population centres, covering some 120 000 premises. Such a deployment would provide Australia a real context in which to understand the commercialisation and utilisation of FTTP technology with a view to optimising
its roll out across the rest of the country.”

Despite the fact that the tasCOLT project showed that Tasmania was capable of deploying FTTP infrastructure in the state, over the past eight years since the project was kicked off, the NBN deployment in Tasmania has achieved very little. A set of figures published by NBN Co for the period to 7 October, for instance, showed that just 32,000 premises had been passed by the NBN in the state in the first four years of the project’s effort.

And earlier this week Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has published a statement implying that much of the problems with the National Broadband Network rollout in Tasmania could be pegged to NBN contractor Visionstream, stating that the company has done little work in the state since July and is asking for its rates to be substantially enlarged to complete the work.

To help to rectify the problems, today Giddings — now the Tasmanian Premier — announced that the tasCOLT model of stringing NBN cables over powerlines had been proposed again to new Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Giddings emphasised in her statement that she preferred the Fibre to the Premises model modelled in tasCOLT over the technically inferior Fibre to the Node model preferred by the Coalition.

Giddings said Tasmania could not afford to lose the opportunity that would come from having optic fibre rolled out directly to the door.

“I am deeply concerned that Tasmania’s first-mover advantage and the jobs and investment of the new digital economy could be lost under the Coalition’s fibre to the node plan,” Giddings said. “We need to future proof Tasmania and ensure that our broadband infrastructure is sufficient to meet the needs of households, health, education and job creation not just today, but tomorrow.”

“That is why I have asked Aurora to prepare a brief on using its existing power pole network to deliver optic fibre, which we will provide to the Australian Government. This model was the basis for our successful submission to be the first State to receive the NBN but it was not pursued by NBN Co.”

“However, we believe it has the potential to ensure that the NBN can continue to be rolled out in a cheaper and more efficient way. I have raised this idea in my meetings with both the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and they have been open to receiving a proposal.”

“This could be a win-win for all of us, allowing the Coalition to honour its pre-election pledge, reducing roll-out costs for NBN Co and its contractors and ensuring that Tasmania continues to realise the benefits of having superfast broadband delivered to the door.”

Image credit: Back the Future movie promotional image


    • I’ve got it now at Riverstone! :)
      The cables are installed very high on the pole, about 0.5m under the power lines, so you hardly even notice them. They are significantly thinner than even the existing phone cables, let alone the HFC (and no clunking big repeaters either)

  1. Interesting proposal. I certainly think that its a decent idea to speed up the roll out and keep FTTP. But the other side of me remembers a time when people were complaining that we should be trying to make NBN 100% underground to protect it from natural disasters and the like.

    But I guess we can give some up to keep FTTP.

  2. Good on them. I hope it goes well for Tasmania. I wish it went well for all of Australia, but no hope there.

  3. Tasmania’s NBN IS mostly on poles. The scarily old duct network of often 20mm galvanised iron just can’t support additional cables. The problem is that ALL of Australia’s pole owners see the NBN as a great way to get the government to pay for their poles to be replaced. At up to 20k per pole it’s often cheaper to just dig a new conduit – which NBNCo will own outright.

    They’re all doing it. Some are waiting for an area to be nearly finished construction and then walking through with a spray can and condemning poles.

    Do some digging on pole remediation if you want a good story.

  4. I have been told by NBN contractors that SAPower would be deploying fibre over poles. At least, that was the plan before the election.

  5. …until the next bushfire… or car vs pole contact.

    Not only should the fibre be underground but so should the power.

    One step forward – two steps back.

  6. In an ideal world I think everyone would prefer cabling to be run underground, but nothing about the NBN rollout has turned out to be ideal. Given the glacial pace of work by Visionstream in Tas, and the fact that state-owned power company Aurora owns all the poles, I think it’s a great idea to make use of them to deliver FTTP far more quickly and affordably. I’m certainly not getting my hopes up that Turnbull will listen or care though.

Comments are closed.