Minister Fifield appears ignorant of NBN Optus HFC disaster


news Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has publicly reaffirmed his confidence in the fitness of Optus’ HFC cable network for use as part of the National Broadband Network, in comments which appear to show that he has no knowledge of deep concerns by the NBN company itself that the network is unusable.

As part of the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix approach to the National Broadband Network, the NBN company has bought the HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus. In Optus’ case, the network buy came at a cost of some $800 million.

However, internal documents leaked this afternoon have revealed that the NBN company is considering overbuilding the Optus HFC cable network, in a move which dramatically validates long-standing criticism that the HFC cable technology could not meet Australia’s future broadband needs.

The documents — dated 3 November — openly state that Optus’ HFC network is “not fully fit for purpose”, with some Optus equipment “arriving at end of life” — needing to be “replaced”. Some Optus HFC nodes are “oversubscribed” compared with Telstra’s HFC cable network and would “require node splits”, while Optus’ cable modem termination systems don’t have “sufficient capacity to support NBN services”.

The document explicitly states that some 470,000 premises in the Optus HFC cable footprint would need to be overbuilt, with a significant impact to the NBN company’s peak funding requirement ranging between $150 million and $600 million. The document also explicitly states that the NBN company will miss its financial year 2017-2018 HFC ready for service target.

This afternoon the Opposition explicitly questioned Fifield on the issue in Senate Question Time, without mentioning the leaked documents. The documents were leaked towards the end of Question Time — close to 3pm.

It appears the intent of the Opposition was to establish what Fifield knew of the Optus HFC problem.

In his response, Fifield at several points appeared broadly mystified as to the basis for Labor’s line of questioning.

The Minister reaffirmed his faith in the fitness of the HFC cable technology for use with respect to the NBN project. “Accessing HFC infrastructure, is one of the main reasons why the Government is going to be in a position to roll out the NBN network nationwide much, much faster than would have been the case if those opposite had remained in office,” he said.

“As a Government, we think that it makes good sense to use the infrastructure that is there. The HFC is there in most capital cities and the Gold Coast.”

“The NBN is in a sense technology-agnostic,” Fifield continued. “The NBN will avail itself of the technology that will best see the NBN rolled out fastest and at lowest cost to taxpayers. And as Senator McLucas points out, Optus does have HFC cables, Telstra do as well, and the NBN will be availing itself of those network opportunities as is appropriate.”

At several points, Labor asked Fifield point blank about the Government’s support for Optus’ HFC cable network.

In response, Fifield said: “We’ll be using Optus and Telstra.”

Senator Jan McLucas shot back: “Isn’t it true that the Optus HFC network is not fit for purpose and will cause more delays?” In response, Fifield again stated: “NBN will be using both Telstra and Optus HFC network as is appropriate.”

Fifield’s responses appear to show that the Minister was not aware during Question Time of the leaked document which Labor was referring to. The plan is marked “draft” and “commercial in confidence” and is dated 3 November. It appears that the Minister has not been briefed in detail on the issue since that time.

Delimiter has contacted the Office of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to invite a response to the issue.


  1. Three weeks is a long time for the minister to be kept at arms length over the impacts of a decision with an impact to the project of more than $AU1billion.

  2. $800Billion! Wow! A lot for an second hand HFC network!

    But typo’s aside.. is this actually a surprise to anyone? Of course the HFC was on it’s last legs, Optus stopped investing in capacity upgrades some time ago. I’d always assumed that they would essentially “throw away” those parts of the network which overbuilt the Telstra network, or utilise the fibre runs to enable splitting of areas. It seems though that the plan to throw a few new CMTS at it to magically enable a bunch of houses with minimal Capex is not going to work. It’s just more proof the the MTM model is more about achieving “numerical” service coverage, and not about actually building a proper network.

    • Yep, so clueless, just MT’s patsy who’ll prolly take the fall for the increasingly appropriately named Malcolm TurnBull’s Mess!

      However we wont forget who’s responsible for shafting Australia’s future!

  3. In a shock twist a network that wasn’t fit for the purposes of NBN, turns out to be still not fit for purposes of NBN.

    And the band plays on.

  4. You know, “I told you so” never feels as good as you think it might. Sure, it’s nice to be proven right, but we’ll still see more of the same old political nonsense in response.

    Fifield/Turnbull should admit the folly of buying the network ‘sight unseen’, but they won’t. Nor will they adopt the best technological solution of rolling out FTTP.

    • Nor will they lose the election in a backlash against their dishonesty and fraud, nor will the MTM or even publications like the Guardian hold Turnbull or his government to account based on the facts of the NBN sabotage and the implications for Turnbull’s trustworthiness as PM.

  5. Hey hey fellow Aussies we just paid $800million for some Coax!

    Seriously how many billions have we spent on buying (Cu) things we’re not going to be using. I’m all for recycling but I think the taxpayer is paying over the odds prices for scrap copper :(

  6. I rather suspect that Fifield is quite well aware of the contents of that document, but that he chooses not to admit publicly that the MTM plan is badly flawed…

  7. Some one should be hanged for this, the number one principle of Government purchasing is that the product purchased must be “Fit for Purpose”. Now they have it they claim its not fit! Looks like someone is exempt from Government purchasing regulations.

      • Realty because your lovely Turnbull appointed board agree to it as is. To late now lol why shouldn’t Optus fix it lol should that be in the revised agreement lol

        • I’m sure Optus would love to fix it and also maintain it… for say (for ironies sake) $800m per year on top of the $800m.

      • They should but MTM and LNP didn’t write that into the agreement and purchased the HFC (well and CAN to be fair) sight unseen it would seem. Due diligence would suggest that something is ensured to be fit for purpose or of a certain agreed standard but I guess not in the liberal play book!

        CAN deal is worse because they agreed to ensure that NBN will pay Telstra to fix any issues as well.

    • @Mandy

      At least we wouldn’t have to buy any rope to hang them with. Apparently we have plenty of spare coax cable…

    • “Some one should be hanged for this”

      This is some perfect /r/circlejerkaustralia material.

  8. Labor were going to pay $800M to Optus for their HFC customers and then shutdown the network and overbuild it with FTTP.

    The Coalition MAY end up extending into the Optus HFC footprint with Telstra HFC or FTTN or a mix of both or even with the most expensive funding option FTTP ( although I doubt it), the difference in the end is what?

    • The difference, in the end, is competence. Labor knew what they were doing. The Coalition are working in total ignorance; actually worse than ignorance – in willful denial.
      The difference, in the end, is credibility. The whole underpinning ideology of the MTM is that re-using existing assets will result in drastic savings. Everyone (bar a few idiots) said that the existing assets were not fit for purpose. Now they have been proven right for around half a million premises. This dents the Coalitions entire rationale (which was never rational) and this will be totally destroyed when the copper network is likewise found to be unfit for purpose.
      The difference, in the end, is that those half a million customers have just had enormous uncertainty introduced – as well as massive delays.
      The difference, in the end, is that the Labor NBN would get it right, the first time – and this would be good for the next century. The Coalition farce, for these customers in particular, is starting badly, patching it at huge expense for something that will be redundant in a decade – and that anyone (bar a few idiots) knew this was going to happen.
      That is just the start of the differences. It is strange that you even had to ask.

      • Labor still were taking political short cuts and in that sense no better than the liberals.

        They appointed a good CEO and board however that were managing to wrangle the political behemoth and make a decent attempt at a nation building exercise (rather than just play along with the pollies and caring little about the rest of us).

        They sought advice from and listened to that panel of (actual) experts when they realised their vision had issues.

    • @Reality
      The difference is that Labor were actually upgrading the HFC network to FTTP, while the Coalition is replacing the HFC with…HFC. The problem lies not in the spend but in the result.

    • Noting that if you buy it, then immediately decommission it – there’s no ongoing maintenance costs. OPEX on that is tiny (effectively, the costs to get rid of it).

      The worst thing would be if NBN company decided to try and salvage it, and sink considerable CAPEX into upgrades, then yet more OPEX to run it.

      Sometimes, it’s better to cut your loses and run. Conroy may have been many things, but he wasn’t half astute.

      • You cant just immediately shut-down a network with 500,000+ customers on it, you have to build something to replace it first.

        I’m in the Croydon/Kilsyth/Mooroolbark area which is 100% Optus HFC and no Telstra HFC so nbn will need to completely replace the Optus HFC with something that is “Fit for Purpose”.

        If nbn wasn’t being run my a bunch of liberal party minions that would be either FTTP or FTTdp – prolly end up being FTTN! Our small section of our suburb is all underground power and PSTN with no street furniture (no HFC either) so the morons better not stick any of their FUGLY nodes in our area or they’ll get burnt to the ground by an angry mob!!!

    • @ alain

      Why keep warping back?

      Sound familiar?

      But since you insist on warping (and criticing anyone else that, err, warps – lol). Gee veiled criticism of the last mob’s $800m payment to Optus to shut down HFC (at least you did recognise, it also included the transfer of customers).

      But of course had they overbuilt and not paid Optus compensation, you would have argued that the socialist’s and their monopoly FttP network are walking all over a poor private company…

      Wouldn’t you?

      And looking at your comments, I’m sure all but a few would agree with me.

      There’s always an angle for the perpetual illogical ideological narrative isn’t there?

  9. I must admit it’s not a good look for the Coalition MTM, fortunately there are two HFC networks virtually running down the same streets, I look forward to the Coalition statement on the problem and why it took until the end of 2015 to find out there was a issue with the state of the Optus HFC.

    • So you do not think shifting 1/2 a million homes onto the other HFC network is going to cause issues? Your faith is both inspiring and a wee bit misplaced.

    • If Telstra HFC was running down the same streets then there wouldn’t be and extra $150m and delay of a year.

      But then it’s taken 2 years after saying they would use it to find out it is if no use

    • Rather than faithfully awaiting and without question of course, accepting with open arms their lame BS excuses, you could attack them for actual gross incompetence?

      Just like you attacked and continue to attack the original FttP daily, for gross incompetence which never even existed… it was all in your head.

      • Yes Rizz our friend here think it’s just fine to have 2 price rises of roughly $15B in 2 years with out build anything. Hate to see the real cost once they get started. Or should we expect a $15B cost rise each year astray is how the trend is going ATM

  10. Hey, remember when the libs went ape-sh*t over some coffee machines? Penny pinching and pound foolish is the expression. lols.

  11. This government enjoys buying lemons with OUR money, so frustrating how they can run the country into the ground slowly for personal gains and smile about it since the governor general is in bed with the liberals.

    • A nearly useless expensive to run and maintain asset that is, and I quote*, “Not fit for purpose”.

      You LibTrolls really are a bit slow aren’t you!

      *nbn’s words, not mine.

    • This is that ‘asset’ we’re all talking about that is not fit for purpose and is almost going to cost as much again to ‘overbuild’ right?

      JT the deal looked bad when you had the two HFC networks overbuilding each other so much it just looks far worse now. Add to that we have to maintain the network lest Foxtel be left in the cold having to pay for its own maintenance.

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