news The office of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has issued a statement denying that regulatory decisions by the Government were forcing Telstra to install brand new copper in new greenfields estates, adding that it was up to Telstra to decide what technology it wanted to install.
Last week the Department of Communications published statistics which appear to show that Telstra has deployed brand new copper to hundreds of new development premises around Australia, as part of its role as the infrastructure provider of last resort in greenfields estates of less than 100 premises.
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.
However, Telstra subsequently stated that it had no choice in the matter and that current regulatory settings prohibited Telstra from rolling out a fibre network in greenfields estates.
“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,” the telco said. It appears that the current policy settings are a result of policy set by both the Rudd/Gillard and Abbott/Turnbull administrations.
However, a spokesperson for Communications Minister Fifield this afternoon issued a statement denying that the Government was forcing Telstra’s hand on copper.
“The Telecommunications Infrastructure in New Developments [TIND] policy does not prevent Telstra from rolling out fibre. Under the policy, Telstra can choose what technology it uses to service a development. This includes fibre, HFC, copper or wireless technology,” the statement said.
Fifield’s spokesperson conceded, however, that the current policy didn’t rule out deploying brand new copper.
“The TIND recognises that in many instances, for example, in small infill or rural developments, copper is an efficient solution,” they said.
“NBN Co (or other providers like OptiComm) can service smaller developments on a commercial basis if developers want a fibre solution. Where copper has been installed by Telstra, it will be upgraded, if needed, as the NBN is rolled out, just as other existing copper infrastructure is being upgraded to FTTN as part of the multi-technology mix rollout.”
They additionally noted that there were some controls on how Telstra deployed its new infrastructure.
“If Telstra chooses to roll out fibre in a new development, like any other provider, it must operate the network in compliance with the broader legislative framework. Parts 7 and 8 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 require networks that provide services at more than 25 Mbps download to be operated on a wholesale-only basis. This aligns with Telstra’s long term obligation to structurally separate,” the Minister’s spokesperson said.
“The arrangements in new developments were comprehensively reviewed by the Vertigan panel and considered carefully by the Government in responding to the Vertigan panel’s recommendations.”
The statement from Fifield’s spokesperson came after Delimiter posed the following questions to the Minister in writing:
- “Telstra has stated that it is currently prohibited from deploying fibre in ‘greenfields’ estates by government policy, and thus is instead deploying copper cables. Does the Minister agree that current policy prohibits Telstra from deploying fibre cables in new greenfields estates?”
- “Given that copper cables are being laid instead of fibre in some new estates, does the Minister believe the current government policy on this issue is achieving its objectives?”
- “It appears that much of the current policy dates back to the era of the Rudd/Gillard Labor administration. To what extent does the Minister believe this is a historical issue dating back to decisions made by the previous Labor administration?”
In response to Minister Fifield’s statement, Telstra issued the following statement:
“Telstra has been misrepresented by Delimiter in this matter. The Minister’s statement today does not contradict Telstra’s earlier statement.”
“Our statement on this matter was “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.”
“Minister Fifield’s Office said: “If Telstra chooses to roll out fibre in a new development, like any other provider, it must operate the network in compliance with the broader legislative framework. Parts 7 and 8 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 require networks that provide services at more than 25 Mbps download to be operated on a wholesale-only basis.”
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.
Wow. We now have a situation where Telstra is deploying a bunch of brand new copper cables (in 2016. 2016!) to new housing estates around Australia, instead of rolling fibre. Meanwhile, Telstra and the Communications Minister are publicly disagreeing about why this is happening.
My very brief analysis of this situation is that it is unlikely that Minister Fifield’s office has issued an inaccurate statement here — usually ministerial and departmental staffers are quite accurate at interpreting the appropriate legislative and regulatory settings (that’s their job).
However, it may also be the case that the letter of the law leaves Telstra little choice, in effect, as to how it handles greenfields estates, and that the actual intent of the law has failed.
I hope to have some more detailed, independent advice next week as to why Australia’s incumbent telco is still deploying brand new copper in the year of 2016.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting