“Welcome to the 1940s”: Labor lampoons NBN Co for deploying new copper


news The Australian Labor Party has lampooned the NBN company for its willingness to deploy brand new copper cables in some areas to ensure the Government’s Fibre to the Node model will succeed, welcoming the company back to the “1940’s”, when copper cables were regarded as state of the art technology.

The NBN company has recently confirmed that it will, where necessary, deploy brand new copper cables in some areas to ensure that the Fibre to the Node network rollout mode preferred by the Coalition Government as part of its Multi-Technology mix will succeed. It will depend on the specific condition of the copper in each area as to whether the NBN company replaces some or all of the cables. In some cases, where the copper is badly corroded, fibre may be used instead.

However, in a speech to the Australian Internet Governance forum last week, Labor backbencher Terri Butler — who has recently emerged as a supporter of Australia’s technology sector within the Parliament — noted comments that NBN company chief executive Bill Morrow made on the matter.

“… recently NBN Co CEO Mr Bill Morrow also revealed that NBN Co plans to replace degraded copper with new copper in some cases,” said Butler. “He said: “… where the copper is insufficient, we have planned for that, we have budgeted for that, if we need to go in and retrofit that copper.”

“Seriously. More copper? Welcome to the 1940s.”

Butler said her electorate — in the inner suburbs on the South side of Brisbane — had “very slow” ADSL, and added that for some people, the HFC cable Internet was also slow. “There are people who can get neither cable nor ADSL and rely on satellites. We want the real, fibre to the home NBN. But we’re not getting fibre at all,” the MP said.

“The NBN is a mess. In April 2013, Mr Turnbull said the Coalition’s broadband would cost $29.5 billion. In December 2013: $41 billion. Now the cost is estimated at $56 billion.”

Butler said Labor had called on the new Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, to release the financial model that underpinned the NBN Corporate Plan, to “abandon copper altogether”, to release detailed NBN rollout information, to ensure that key NBN executive and board appointments were made on merit, and to engage with industry and the Opposition on how to work together to enable a digitally-connected future, with the NBN as the backbone.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has also recently ramped up his rhetoric when it comes to the Multi-Technology Mix which the Coalition is using for the NBN.

Last week Clare issued a statement associated with an NBN event in Tasmania he had attended with Tasmanian Labor Senator Catryna Bilyk.

“Half of Tasmania will get access to Labor’s world class Fibre-to-the-Premises NBN and the other half will be forced to make do with a second rate version of the NBN that relies on copper from last century,” said Clare.

“Under Labor, every Tasmanian home and business in the fixed line footprint was contracted to get superfast Fibre-to-the-Premises NBN connections by the end of 2016. Half of Tasmanian homes and businesses, including residents in Howden, where today’s meeting was held, will now be forced to put up with a version of the NBN that will have to be upgraded down the track.”

“That is despite Malcolm Turnbull promising before the election that he would honour existing contracts and roll out Fibre-to-the-Premises broadband across Tasmania. He said:

“The alternative would be to breach them [the contracts] and that is a course we would not countenance””

Malcolm Turnbull broke this promise and cruelly ripped half of Tasmania off the map. Malcolm Turnbull is creating two classes of people in Tasmania – those who are lucky enough to have fibre all the way to the home and those who are not. Residents and businesses across Tasmania, like all Australians, deserve better than the second rate version of the NBN that Malcolm Turnbull is giving them.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has recently said a number of times that the NBN would now need to be constructed in a “two-stage” process, and appears to have broadly accepted that the Multi-Technology Mix approach to the NBN will go ahead, with Labor apparently planning to upgrade the MTM NBN to a full Fibre to the Premises mix in the long-term.

However, in the short-term, there still appears to be a number of Labor MPs who just can’t really accept the MTM model and find it objectionable. Butler’s comments here on copper are a bit stronger than Clare’s comments have been, and you’ll also see similarly strong words from others such as former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

All this makes me wonder what is truly happening within Labor at the moment. How many Labor MPs support a so-called ‘two-stage’ model for the NBN, as Clare has been talking about publicly? And how many think that the NBN should just be returned to a full-fibre model? I wonder what the debate is like within Labor at the moment. I’m sure that broadly supporting a Coalition policy — no matter how complex the situation is — will not go down well with everyone.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. If you ever needed a clue that the the patchwork plan was a politically motivated brain fart this is it. Rolling out copper in 2015. Amazing. MTM will be cheaper the Liberal party shills squealed before the election. Here we are 2015, $56 billion to roll out more copper. $56 billion because we need the speed copper gets us “faster and sooner”. $56 billion.

    • Somehow “I told you so” just doesn’t cut it for these never ending confirmations of stuff we all said would happen after the election…

    • “Rolling out copper in 2015. Amazing.”


      This is the exact moment the NBN “jumped the shark”.

    • Indeed HC.

      So much so that even the live long apologist, far right bean counters are bewildered by such a retrograde move… and that’s saying something ;)

  2. I am pretty sure Clare thinks it should be returned to a full fibre model but is just aware this country can’t afford those delays and or additional costs to try switching for a third time. So ‘two stage’ is a necessary evil that they are resigned too.

    I think for the others talking about copper vs fibre its just a far simpler message if they avoid mentioning ‘two stage’ policy. More sound bites for the media, giving MT some of his own rhetoric back and its easier for Joe public to understand.

    Saying we’ll keep going with the MTM and then upgrade it makes it harder to criticise it in the same breath (although I reckon there is the talent for that in our fair capital).

    • People died for this country and we just built China… the kids can’t move out of home and the boomers are all paper tigers who are a long long way from being finished with their demands and you think this country has no money?

      You must believe all debt is bad like all those other lib voters who never used the concept of ‘leverage’ !!

    • It’s not the delays and additional costs – it’s more that nbn™ under the Libs have locked them in to owning the mess that is the copper network for the foreseeable future. It was reckless and irresponsible, and I think the cost for maintenance etc. will be immense over the next decade.

      I’m not saying that NBN Co was run perfectly under Labor, but they were far more responsible with the design of the network, trials (actually doing real-world tests, unlike the artificial conditions in all the FTTN trials) and contracts (only doing three years or so at a time).

  3. Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has recently said a number of times that the NBN would now need to be constructed in a “two-stage” process,

    To be fair, I doubt very much this means completing MtM before moving back to 93% FTTP – I’d suggest it really means 2 stages only for areas that have already been MtM’d.

  4. From their press releases it doesn’t sound like Labor’s “support” for the MTM is founded in a belief that it’s the best option, they’re framing it as “Well, we tried to give you FTTP but we can’t now because it’ll be too costly in time and money to switch from the MTM”.

    Whether this is true or not I have no idea, but if the FTTN aspect of the MTM becomes as big a problem as a lot of us think it will then Malcolm has handed Labor a massive stick to beat him with for many years to come. I think that’s what Labor’s current NBN policy is trying to capitalise on.

  5. I really don’t actually know what the NBN is doing. It used to be that they were deploying new fibre to people to get them connected. Now they seem to be just a mix of government department and a second tier ISP.

    When will it get back to actually building something?

    • “I really don’t actually know what the NBN is doing…”

      Sadly Dominik, neither does the government or NBN management, which most here have been saying for sometime and when completely imbecilc decisions like this are made, well… bingo!

  6. I think what Labor would do, although they feel the MTM may only be the way forward now, is likely to continue the contracts for MTM in areas where it has started, but like the Liberals did, for areas where it hasn’t been started at all (build prep or otherwise) they’ll return those areas to FTTP, and then do an incremental upgrade on those FTTN areas.

    • Agree this would be the best way.
      Also a purge of nbn employers with political arse kissing.. They know who they are!

      • They should rolll out FTTN only to coalition held seats since that’s all they want. Ohh wait thats where most of the contracts for FTTN are lol

      • We need a purge of every person managing NBN because clearly not a single person knows what the hell they are doing.

  7. If I were Labor, I’d be playing up the need to “Fix” the MTM. But now we have to do it in stages. So First we get rid of FTTN and move back to FTTP to cover that footprint. We continue with FTTB and HFC, until the FTTN is gone. Then we change HFC to FTTP over a period of time.

      • It’s handy when a couple of us say it, as it means we are all thinking along a similar path, fragmentation is what kills ideas :)

  8. Remediation of copper just proves killing fibre is ideology based to stifle everything for Murdoch. Criminal charges should be laid and completely reckless and economic sabotage.

  9. I would accept FTTN now but only because our town has now been downgraded to fixed wireless.
    I am not sure how the costs compare between fixed wireless and FTTP in our town but since it is about 600 premises in three housing clusters within a flat 2KM range I can’t see fixed wireless as anything but a punishment from this government. Fortunately we went from being a late 2015 rollout to not even on the NBN rollout map so we may be lucky and have a new government willing to install fibre by the time we are back on the map.
    I get the feeling that the tower will be underutilised in my town and may work out more expensive than fibre.

  10. I would like to see the cost comparison between rolling out new copper and new fibre and the projected on going maintenance costs for both over a 25 year period. No wonder the share market price for copper has risen lately and I wonder how many insiders are gambling/ investing in copper ?

  11. A failed minister (abuses everyone) and a backbencher mock the MTM plans for copper remediation. Unsurprisingly the shadow minister is more restrained, might someday have to come clean on pricing.

    Reading the article you’d think FTTH costs didn’t blowout. Quigley’s ontime and on budget mantra still echos, empirical evidence dismissed. See why they never put a figure on their own costings.

    To be mocked by such people (happens all the time) is actually a compliment. Talk’s cheap.

    • The FTTH costs did blow out, although it was early days and things were starting to look promising. Yet I seem to recall that it was the MTM that was supposed to be the “cheap” solution. Not so cheap anymore.

      At least with FTTH we would have ended up with an asset that was worth something. God knows what the MTM will be worth, apart from scrap copper value.

      Cheaper, faster, sooner.

      • Ironically Jason K in relation to Australia’s comms in 2015 and beyond, it’s about the only thing they actually got right… it is fraudband (it wasn’t so much in 2007 as we now could have advanced from FttN – but certainly no arguments now).

        …yet years later (after it’s use by date) now obsolete and actually not just fraudband but fucking lunacyband…they adopted the very fraudband network they derided 8 years ago? And the “copper cheerleaders” keep telling us not to build FttP and stick with copper “because tech changes so fast”… that’s contradiction gold, right there.

        But again they are absolutely right it is fraudband and proven so by the most disgraceful hold ups, a massive cost blow out and now talks of rolling out new copper…unbelievable (nice new dirt road, anyone)?

        Talk about complete hypocrisy meets absolute stubborn stupidity.

        But of course, they still have those life long stalwarts who will agree with them no matter what they say and even when they do a complete backflip with double pike and triple somersault, such as they clearly did with “fraudband” (which I’m sure was the work of the devil in 2007 by those who faithfully keep banging the drum now)…

        • Nailed it Rizz.

          I honestly don’t think they are as stubborn as you suggest though, I think most have or are coming to the realisation that as the days pass their position on this becomes even more dubious. That why you wont see many of them defend this unmitigated disaster anymore. It was easy before the election because they had uncertainly on their side, now that the patchwork actually has to be implemented we are seeing the clusterfuck we expected…

  12. Labor will do at least some FTTP for certain with all the cost savings implemented. It’s the best way to prove FTTN was a bad idea.

      • Richard, the main so called argument for the MTM was “utilising infrastructure already in place”. That argument does not apply if you are replacing the “infrastructure already in place”. It speaks of utter stupidity to then not use the opportunity to replace the copper with fibre. Instead we have a mob of utter utter morons who want to roll out new copper. Talk about being so ideologically tied to something that you overlook the realities of the situation.

  13. “Butler said her electorate — in the inner suburbs on the South side of Brisbane — had “very slow” ADSL, and added that for some people, the HFC cable Internet was also slow. “There are people who can get neither cable nor ADSL and rely on satellites. We want the real, fibre to the home NBN. But we’re not getting fibre at all,” the MP said.’

    Terri Butlers electorate is Griffith, which is mostly covered by Telstra’s South Brisbane Fibre. So most people in Butler’s electorate will have ONLY fibre or HFC, the ADSL was removed. True it’s not NBN, but it is mostly fibre. No idea what she’s talking about. I’m in this electorate, I can get HFC (Telstra and Optus both run past my home), and I have fibre (used to have ADSL 2, but it was removed).

    • I think you better have look at a map of your electorate. The area covered by Telstra fibre is almost all in South Brisbane and West End, which probably covers about one twentieth of the area of the electorate.

      Griffith runs north to Bulimba, east to Carina and south to Holland Park. That’s a lot of people with a lot of crappy ADSL.

      • The area covered by Telstra’s South Brisbane Fibre is much more than just the South Brisbane and West End suburbs. As I mentioned, I have it, and I’m not in either of those two suburbs.

        Butler said “But we’re not getting fibre at all”, which is totally bogus, lots of fibre in Griffith already, and more is being laid by NBN this year (I’ve seen them). She also mentioned “the inner suburbs on the South side of Brisbane”, which definitely is the South Brisbane Fibre area.

        When I had ADSL in Griffith, it wasn’t “very slow”.

        I still call BS on what Butler said.

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