Fifield leaves door open for greater NBN FTTP rollout


news Senator Mitch Fifield appears to have opened the door for the NBN company to change its percentage mix of broadband technologies, in his first interview since being sworn in as Malcolm Turnbull’s replacement Communications Minister on Monday this week.

One month ago, the NBN company published the latest version of its Corporate Plan. The document cut by up to 550,000 the amount of Australian premises to receive Fibre to the Premises broadband under the Coalition’s version of the NBN, with the company further shifting its model towards the HFC cable networks approach which was one technology Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull openly preferred as Shadow Communications Minister.

The company is currently planning to deploy Labor’s original FTTP model (the technically superior option) to only around 20 percent of Australian premises. Many of those have already received the FTTP service, with about one million premises connected to the NBN’s FTTP infrastructure at this point. Under the current model, some 38 percent of Australian premises will be covered by the lesser Fibre to the Node and Basement technologies, 34 percent by HFC and the remainder by fixed wireless and satellite.

Technology2013 NBN Strategic Review mix (% of total)2015 NBN Corporate Plan mix (% of total)
Fixed WirelessTotal of 7%, including satellite5%
SatelliteTotal of 7%, including Fixed Wiress3%

However, since Malcolm Turnbull seized the Prime Ministership from Tony Abbott last week, some in Australia’s technology sector have speculated that the amount of FTTP infrastructure being deployed by the NBN company could increased under Turnbull’s leadership.

The speculation is based on the idea that Turnbull only shifted the NBN’s model towards its current Multi-Technology Mix due to the Abbott’s influence.

ABC Radio National Drive host Patricia Karvelas asked Fifield last night whether a bigger rollout of FTTP was on the cards. A transcript of the interview was distributed by the Minister’s office this morning. The full interview is available online.

“Well Patricia, I’m barely 24 hours into the seat of Communications Minister but look, Malcolm Turnbull has done an incredible job, in turning the NBN around,” the Senator responded. “It was headed for an incredibly expensive rollout, Malcolm has identified a way to deliver broadband to Australians at a much lower cost.”

“The NBN as an organisation is continually learning, They’re continually adapting. We’re not fixated with any particular technology to roll out the NBN.”

“In a sense, we’re technology agnostic, and what that means is that over time, there’s the capacity for an evolution in terms of where the balance of technological solutions lies. I’m not indicating anything by that other than to say that we’re technology agnostic and where the business leads, is where the business will go in terms of the solutions that it provides to the community.”

The comments — just one month after the NBN confirmed its current mix of technologies — appear to open the door for the company to up the percentage of FTTP it is deploying.

However, they are also consistent with previous statements by Turnbull as Communications Minister that it would be the NBN company itself — not the Government — which would decide the specific direction of its rollout.

Karvelas also asked Fifield about Turnbull’s move to remove the copyright portfolio (including Internet piracy policy) from Attorney-General George Brandis and allocate it to Fifield’s Communications and Arts portfolio.
“You’re right – copyright and classification responsibility has transferred from the Attorney General’s Department to the Communications Department,” said Fifield.

“And part of the rationale is so that you have the Communications Portfolio looking at issues of content, looking at the broad issues of intellectual property, and I’ll confess Patricia, I have not sat down to closely examine the copyright issues in the last 24 hours but that’s certainly on the agenda for the next day or two.”

So what did Fifield mean here with his comments on the NBN? There are two ways to look at the situation.

On the one hand, it is interesting that the new Communications Minister has not firmly committed to the current broadband technology mix which the NBN company outlined only one month ago. You would have to assume that Fifield has received some kind of briefing about the NBN by now. The project is, after all, his largest area of responsibility. I feel confident he would be somewhat aware of its current technology mix and recent Corporate Plan and able to comment on it.

On the other hand, Fifield’s statement is quite similar to previous statements made by Turnbull about the NBN company itself being able to determine what mix of technologies it uses (you have to presume, of course, that despite these statements, the NBN company is not free to ditch HFC cable or FTTN/B entirely).

Personally I would interpret the Senator’s comments to mean that the NBN company will definitely continue on the current path it is on — deciding in each specific area whether to use FTTP, FTTN/B, HFC cable, fixed wireless or satelllite to provide servives to end users — while also leaving the option open to tinker with the NBN’s model a bit if it is deemed politically necessary.

Turnbull stated in his interview with David Speers on Sky News this morning that he was no longer in the business of “ruling things in or out”.

I think we’ll be seeing something similar from our very politically savvy new Communications Minister over the near term — further comments avoiding the Government committing to a new policy direction with the NBN company, while still leaving its options open.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


    • Likely its just a screen door flapping in the wind resulting from a lot of Malcolm’s hot air.

    • absolutely correct, he says that Mals idea was to deliver the network at lower cost but Mals whole argument was that Fibre is too expensive for the bulk of Australian towns and cities and that FTTN would account for the largest portion of the rollout – they are not tech agnostic, they think fibre is not worth pulling copper up for.

  1. Sounds to me like a well trained internet troll feeding the flames of speculation. Giving people just enough rope to hang themselves again at the next election ie faster,sooner, cheaper … now its going to be ‘we’re technology agnostic’.

    It pulls the FTTP hopefuls strings who have been going crazy of late, it gives inclinations that bi-partisan isn’t the liberals problem its the Labour zealotry with an unhealthy fixation! + all the usual rhetoric of the Liberals have done/are doing the NBN better.

    This is precisely why Fifield was chosen. A safe ‘I’ll take that under notice’ politician.

    • That would just be back to the original Labour planned rollout schedule when they took over.

  2. Seems like a classic case of a politician refusing to be nailed down to anything….

  3. I don’t think there is any door open.
    When NBN Co are talking about replacing old copper with new copper (as they have mentioned several times recently), there can be nothing other than ideology at play. There really couldn’t be anything much more stupid. The civil works side of things, which we have been told by Turnbull many times is the most expensive part, would be the same whether running new copper to a house or fibre to a house. Both connections would require a visit to the house to connect the new medium. FTTP is slightly more involved at that point, but given the extra life you get out of fibre, the cost is negligible.

    NBN Co are taking every opportunity to talk down or ignore FTTP. Again, when copper remediation is discussed, they say they will replace the copper with copper, use fixed wireless or satellite. You never see them say they will replace copper with FTTP specifically.
    NBN Co’s blog and social media is full of posts ignoring or actively talking down FTTP.
    With that ethos in place at NBN Co, I really don’t see that anything is going to change any time soon.

    • Because the politicians may be technology agnostic, but NBN Co aren’t – they have a remit, and they’re sticking to it ;-)

      This also flies in the face of promises by Turnbull that poor quality copper would be replaced with fibre. He said that numerous times in 2013. If he’s so technology agnostic, why is he allowing NBN Co to remediate with a more expensive option? (the fibre cable itself is cheaper than copper, but both pale in comparison to the labour cost to pull through and terminate).

    • Did hear them once saying the only way they would replace copper with fibre is if the whole area coppers is bad other wise they would just replace the copper.

  4. I’d hate to be the poor sods doing all the jointing and copper cut overs involved with FTTN. There really isn’t that many skilled people left to do it, most of them from Telstra have been retrenched or put into office based design roles.

    The amount of new pillars, pillar tails and joints that need to be cut into and considered is quite overwhelming. Labour and costs of these things is what is throwing the budget out and it’s only the beginning. It really is a clusterf$^&.

    I think Turnbull will soon be left with no choice to abandon FTTN. FTTN is a nightmare to design and manage. Fingers crossed.

  5. Saying exactly the same thing since they came to power. The cost comparisons leading to fewer ftth connections. NBNCo management aren’t financially innumerate.

  6. That Technology agnosticism line is a direct Turnbull quote that he’s been using since Opposition. No, this isn’t about ‘leaving the door open’ for FTTP, it is about politicians doing their utmost to appear competent, transparent and reasonable while not actually committing to anything at all.

    To be perfectly honest, upgrading HFC last to FTTP is the sensible choice, where connection density is high enough. Even upgrading HFC to significantly reduce contention ratios and give those networks another three to five years of life might be sensible if the cost of doing so is low enough. But FTTN makes utterly no sense – getting electricity to those cabinets, running fibre out to them and then not pulling it through the last few hundred metres to do FTTP is ludicrous. Pulling new copper through because what is there is insufficient (due to small gauge, age or damage) is absolute insanity mullets you have shares in a copper cable manufacturer, in which case it’s criminal).

    You know what? I’m not technology agnostic, for the same reasons I’m not religiously agnostic. Agnostic means you accept that you don’t know one way or the other, so you allow for the possibility that anyone might be right – you’re just not making a definitive decision. Well, I’m an atheist because, despite millenia of propaganda, there remains zero compelling evidence that any religious book is any more spiritual or describes an actual deity any more real than that described in any other work of fiction. My position is based on fact, and the absence of facts provided by those who disagree.

    My position on technological solutions is based on a similar reliance on evidence and facts. Facts about not just network performance, but facts based on the cost of infrastructure, the labour cost of the rollout, the predicted and actual demand for products, their profit margins and ROI. The facts demonstrate that the cost of deploying FTTN Vs. FTTP is a relatively marginal difference, while adding significant unnecessary complexity, operational costs, maintenance and undermining ROI, all while being *not fit for purpose*. Agnosticism is the same as being committed to a bad option, because both require a lack of comprehension, appreciation and understanding of facts and evidence.

  7. Different clown, same spin. Surprised they are still pushing the “technology agnostic” line though, everyone already knows it’s a farce. Yes, technology agnostic, how wonderful, so long as it’s anything but FttP. The only way GimpCo can prove they are technology agnostic by using every other technology for the just sake of it.

    I wont even mention the breathtakingly delusional “Malcolm Turnbull has done an incredible job, in turning the NBN around” and “It was headed for an incredibly expensive rollout, Malcolm has identified a way to deliver broadband to Australians at a much lower cost” lines because I’m already anticipating a new high idiocy benchmark of such comments in the next few weeks…

    • I’m wondering if they’ll start calling us “Technological Fundamentalists” and have us all rounded up under their Border Farce terrorism laws…

  8. Hi surname is TurnBULL for a reason. As the new PM he has so far been spewing out all the vague and ambiguous statements in the Turnbull charm book that people want to hear and believe and to give them hope. Some of us realise though that in real life it is nothing but spin and nothing will change. You can also be sure he has directed his new robots (Fifield included) to hand out the same spin.

  9. “but look, Malcolm Turnbull has done an incredible job, in turning the NBN around”

    I’ll say! We did a full 180 w/ having a proper broadband upgrade. To “upgrading” older technology on it’s way to being phased out!

    • Just think of all those poor Telstra shareholders who Malcolm has generously helped out and who can now afford to feed their kids.

      Great job Malcolm!


  10. Is it just me or does Fifield have a teddy bear quality about him?

    From another point of view his comments are also warm and fuzzy but are completely lacking in any evidence based numbers. Hopefully Australian politics just needs a little time for a massive cathartic release after the disaster we’ve had recently and in that context perhaps we can cut them a little slack. In the end though we are only ever after the one thing from our politicians. Malcolm is an expert in saying “openness and transparency” but to date his actions have been anything but. Let’s hope that can change in our new political climate.

  11. Han Solo: Now don’t get jittery, Luke. There are a lot of command ships. Keep your distance, though, Chewie, but don’t *look* like you’re trying to keeping your distance.

    [Chewie barks a question]

    Han Solo: *I* don’t know. Fly casual.

    This pretty much explains the current changes in the government, and policy. The Liberal leadership has changed, so they are busy trying to figure out what the ‘position’ is, compared to what it was last week.

    So right now, we have a lot of “I don’t know, fly casual” policy work; which is leading every pundit with a view, and every industry ‘expert’ jumping to conclusions. It’s exceedingly expedient to just blame Abbott for everything, and now assume it’s all just going to be fine.

    If one were to believe such a thing (for example, fibre percentage will suddenly spike) then one might be about to be sucker-punched. Turnbull and his ministry aren’t Abbott. But they haven’t suddenly leaned left, either. :)

    The policy may see a little less religious fervour in it’s reaction to fibre, but I still do not believe, for a moment, based on the facts, that suddenly NBNco is going to effectively ditch the agreement with Telstra.

    I would love to be proven wrong, but I believe we are a bit far down the road.

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