news The nation’s largest telco Telstra today said regulatory decisions made by the Government were forcing it to install brand new copper in new greenfields estates, rather than the next-generation fibre-optic cables which many Australians would expect in new developments.
The Department of Communications recently published new statistics which show that Telstra has deployed brand new copper to hundreds of new development premises around Australia as they are being built. The figures, first reported by NBN blogger Kenneth Tsang, show that about 420 new developments around Australia have recently received new copper connections provided by Telstra.
The copper deployments appear to make no technical sense.
In 2016, copper telecommunications infrastructure is considered legacy infrastructure. Where no existing infrastructure exists, it is now standard practice to deploy the latest-generation fibre-optic cables.
Asked to comment on why it was deploying copper to new estates instead of fibre, a Telstra spokesperson said the decision was due to policy laid down by the Government.
“Consistent with government policy, developers are free to pick the carrier of their choice to deploy the infrastructure they need, whether it be fibre or copper, to their new estates,” they said. “Under the current regulatory settings we can’t roll out a fibre network and then retail voice services over it, so where we are approached by a developer to build new telecommunications infrastructure we roll out copper.”
It is currently unclear whose responsibility — Labor or the Coalition’s — the Telstra rollouts ultimately are.
Previously, the NBN company was broadly to deploy its own Fibre to the Premises network to new greenfields developments under Labor’s NBN policy. This meant that the NBN company was able to provide a uniform platform across Australia for broadband infrastructure, but also cut out smaller providers such as Opticomm, which had developed a business rolling infrastructure into new developments.
However, in June 2011 then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy issued a policy update which appeared to set the framework for Telstra to deploy copper to new estates. You can find the policy online in PDF format here.
The issue caused controversy in May 2012, as Telstra revealed at that stage that it had deployed some 35,000 new copper lines around Australia, as a stop-gap measure ahead of the NBN.
However, as Communications Minister in the Abbott Government, Malcolm Turnbull released a policy in May 2015 which again changed the NBN greenfields policy substantially.
It is believed that the previous Labor Government led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had outlawed the installation of new telecommunications infrastructure that was not fibre-optic cable in new greenfields developments, as part of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011.
It appears that requirement may have since been modified, by legislation or through regulation.
The current situation appears to be that developers are able to choose amongst competing infrastructure providers, with the NBN company remaining the infrastructure provider of last resort in developments with 100 premises or more within its footprint.
Telstra is to remain the provider of last resort in developments with fewer than 100 lots and in developments outside the NBN fixed line footprint.
Telstra believes that the current policy means that it is currently prohibited from deploying fibre cables into new developments, and is instead forced to deploy only copper.
A greenfields developer could choose to contract a third-party telco such as Opticomm to deploy fibre into their new development premises, and the Department of Communications data shows that this is happening in some cases.
In cases where no third-party telco is contracted, and the new development has more than 100 premises, the NBN company would take over responsibility for the telco infrastructure, and typically deploy fibre.
But in cases where there is no third-party developer, and less than 100 premises are involved, Telstra believes it is then forced to deploy only copper. This is to ensure that, in future, a competitive third-party developer, or theoretically the NBN company, could come in and install their own fibre.
Delimiter has contacted the Office of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to invite the Minister to comment on whether the Government’s policy is having its intended effect.
Telstra’s move does not represent the first time that brand new copper has been deployed over the past few years in Australia, despite fibre-optic cables being seen as the way of the future for telecommunications networks.
In October last year, for instance, the NBN company revealed it had purchased some 1800km of brand new copper cable at a cost of about $14 million, to ensure that the Fibre to the Node technology model preferred by Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government would function correctly.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull