Telstra not forced to deploy brand new copper, says Fifield


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?”

Telstra’s response
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


  1. So Telstra doesn’t want to install fibre because it would have to wholesale it out lol.

    • That’s what I’m picking up from this. Telstra want to keep their eye popping margins on retail copper services and keep other services providers at arm’s length by preventing ULL services.

      • don’t forget NBN pay to maintain the Cu too ;)! They’ll get a bounty when those customers are transferred to NBN as well.

          • What payment are you referring to that is outside the NBN Co Telstra agreement and payment and the NBN Co Optus agreement and payment that Labor and Conroy had originally negotiated?

          • Not a problem with the previous FTTP to 93% plan…

            Telstra were neutered. But they have of course been given a new ticket to return to doing the wrong thing, by a dumb (dumbest?) government.

            But how embarrassing for those here who have mindlessly argued (and still argue?) the two plans are identical for greenfields (quick blame someone else…lol), eh alain?

            Regardless of who’s to blame now… in the previous plan all greenfields got FTTP – period. In the current plan, greenfields, as it would seem, may get FTTP or may get copper.

            So the plans are not the same, got it now? Awaiting pitiful, childish contradiction….anytime soon.

            This just clearly shows why private enterprise did not, and will not deliver (can’t be trusted) and yet again demonstrates, the absloute stupidity of MTM (proving more and more to be the very FRAUDBAND those rolling it out said it was). It also shows the laughable stupidity of those usual suspects who regardless of each and every daily MTM fuck up, still toe the line… but, but, but.


  2. Next they’ll deploy bonded brand new copper!
    The future is now, copper for everyone!!

  3. Jason you got it right fibre means Telstra has to wholesale but copper means they monopolise the estate

  4. The other telling thing: It’s taken a full week for them to respond to this. I suspect that’s because the response was very, very carefully considered with lots of parties involved in the statement, likely including the now returned, PM.

    So Minister Geenfields, what are you doing about this regulatory lunacy. It is you and your department, that can fix it. Or is there some other motivation to allow this madness to continue?

  5. So to put it bluntly, Hel$tra isnt legislatively restricted from rolling out fibre, so that comment from them is as outright LIE…
    They are just greedy and want to be able to offer retail voice services, and to do that they have to install copper… i would have thought 11 Billion (or whatever the .gov paid Hel$tra) would have had some provisions like no more copper installs…


    • To Telstra, they are “forced” to roll out copper because if they roll out fibre they are going to actually have to play nice and wholesale access to it at a reasonable price.

      So, to them… They are “forced” to use copper.

  6. Would be almost ironic if there are no ports at the exchange. But then got to love that $B of dollars private sector are doing.

  7. Telstra is Australia’s largest and most powerful Private Sector entity. It is accustomed to absolute monopoly in its field, and it has friends in Parliament house who want that cosy arrangement to continue.

    Now what seems to be your problem? I know this pigeon breeder…

  8. The whole money hungry mob of shits are playing the tax payers as total idiots,
    this whole nbn will end up at the end of the day costing three times the original fttp what a crock.

  9. I don’t believe either party is lying.

    Telstra is playing smart! They’re protecting their profit while trying to grow their share price while negotiating through government laws so they’re deploying copper which gives them the best monetary return – you can’t blame them for that.

    The Liberals believe our internet is fast enough and we don’t need a Ferrari. They’re accurate in that Telstra isn’t “forced” to deploy fibre, but haven’t acknowledged that it’s more profitable for them under the current conditions.

    But why so much surprise? Has everyone forgotten HFC cable wars between Telstra and Optus?

    FTTP is dead. FTTdP is dead. Competition is dead (thanks to the ACCC’s 121 points of interconnect). We’re going to have the same outcome as the cable wars where there’ll be no new connections once the network is deemed “complete”. Show’s over folks. Move along. Nothing here for anyone.

    • $56 billion plus later and we end up back where we started. Smart government we have.

  10. How about, just follow the money?
    Who gains?
    Noticed the infill line?
    Would you really expect developers i/c up to 99 premises to get quotes for fibre, in HFC or copper areas, before nbn gets near them?
    Or do the minimum, and let such premises get taxpayer provided nbn dollars?

  11. If you were going to buy a block of land would you buy a copper block or a fibre block. I wouldn’t invest my money into a block of land unless the developer put in writing that the block would be fibre only.

    • That early in the site development where it is just a block of land the developer probably hasn’t got that far re communications infrastructure selection.

      Not sure you would get anything in writing up front, especially if there was high demand and he could sell the majority of blocks easily.

      • I would presume they would be doing it the same time as they organise sewage, power, and all the other incoming utilities required for a development site to be successful.

  12. Explains why all the new developments going in near me are getting FTTN.. These are brand new inner city apartments and townhouses that will sell in the low millions.. you’d think the developers would have wanted the best services available. Somethings wrong when brand new builds are getting the second rate service delivered.

  13. It is up to the developer to decide what infrastructure is built, so they will take the fastest and least hassle option.

    This could all be fixed quite simply, mandate that all greenfield infrastructure is NBN FTTP the residence then has a choice of ISP’s, it seems that both under Labor and the Coalition NBN model greenfields are NBN FTTP except where they are not.

    It’s ludicrous that even rural and regional residences residences on NBN wireless and satellite in land area pockets of residences of one two, threes etc have a choice of ISP’s and plans.

    • @Reality, I never thought I’d see the day where we agree on something. Yes, it should simply be mandated that regardless of size, any greenfield infrastructure should be NBN FTTP, or at the very least, FTTP of some form (from whatever installer the developer wants to use) to be wholesaled to ISPs.

    • “it seems that both under Labor and the Coalition NBN model greenfields are NBN FTTP except where they are not.”
      You’re half right. Labor had it mandated, Coalition ‘fixed’ that.

  14. It seems greenfields developers will take the fastest and least hassle option when it comes to fixed line infrastructure.

    This could all be solved quickly, mandate that all greenfield infrastructure is NBN FTTP, where residences have a choice of ISP and plans.

    Both Labor and the Coalition have NBN FTTP as the policy option for greenfields, except where it isn’t.

    It is ludicrous that even residences on NBN wireless and satellite in regional and rural land groups of one two, threes etc have a choice of ISP’s and plans

    • I’m on FTTP, but I don’t have a “choice” between between too many ISP’s because of the 121 points of interconnect.

      • Adam,

        Better than none or be forced to use 3G or 4G (if you are lucky) mobile wireless if you don’t like the developer fixed line choice.

    • oh the original posting delay glitched, hence virtually the same comment twice, sorry about that.

  15. You need to provide evidence that the coalition’s preference is FTTN. Repeatedly asserting it is won’t make it true, and is either intentional lying about or gross incompetence in knowing the positions of the people you’re reporting on.

    Both the current and past communications ministers have said they are technology agnostic.

    “We are technology agnostic.”

    And Fifield saying the same view holds with him as minister.

    I don’t think News Corp do great journalism, but most of the time they’re better than this. Complaints about their journalism here are the pot calling the kettle black. They’re more honest because they make their bias far more obvious.

    • Considering that we have a $27 blowout in cost and 5 years late and all Turnbull and Fifield does is oh it’s labor fault. Or claiming labor rollout is still $30B more and 6-8 years later which that claim is false. Yet you believe when they say they are technology agnostic. Of that Turnbull requires to only deliver 25Mbps which is what the USA states now as a min to call a connection broadband

    • “You need to provide evidence that the coalition’s preference is FTTN.”
      I think you need to provide evidence that the Coalitions’ preference ISN’T FTTN. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

      • Does it matter what the Coalitions preference is and why are we trying to work this out two years into the MtM rollout, reading their NBN policy and the latest CP and FTTN rollouts in areas like Bundaberg it is obvious their preference is FTTN over FTTP in brownfields areas, what else do you need to know?

        • We need to know, when this latest motley crew of no hoping government fools, will wake up to the fact that that their colleagues in 2007 were absolutely right… FTTN (particularly almost a decade on) is indeed FRAUDBAND.

          You’re welcome

  16. I can’t wait for Google and or Facebook to come into town and roll out they’re own service, like project fi. And completely screw over telstra, I’m so over this sort of monoply bullshit, stuck in the last century.

  17. Rene, it quite simple really. Both sides are telling that part of the truth which supports their position. There is nothing preventing Telstra from rolling out fibre, other than that current policy makes it more commercially viable to deploy copper. As is usually the case, it comes down to $. No need to make this appear any more complicated than it is….

  18. Jimmy,

    Assuming they were motivated to leave the lucrative high density population cities of the USA they would rollout their infrastructure the same way here, selected cherry picked suburbs of our biggest cities just for their own customers, that’s also assuming they were allowed to do that here by the ACCC.

    Don’t hold your breath.

    • I’d imagine nbn equivalent-ish competition from overseas would get the same Versailles on Lake Blwxyz Griffin treatment meted out to TPG Wondercom (for daring to sort multi-user dwellings within legislative parameters near existing infrastructure sooner, cheaper and fast enough for now through FTTB/ VDSL2 at 50 to 100/ 20 Mbps with unlimited quota at AUD/$70 compared to nbn/ NBN).
      Now imaging Google, Facebook, Inmarsat, OneWeb, O3B coming downunder?
      If not stop nbn equivalent-isn overbuilding, rather than use adequately served designations, be it Opticonn, Openetworks, Telstra, TPG/ iiNet, … wired or wireless.

      As if nbn hasn’t meant enough sovereign risk given FTTx/ HFC MTM mk3 of 2013, Godzilla-ed FTTP mk2 of 2009, abandoned FTTN mk1 of 2007, cancelled Opel Networks’ DSL/ WiMAX of 2007, no to Telstra FTTN of 2005!
      No wonder Australia’s scores for wired broadband have slipped on international benchmarks, unlike wireless where there has been competition.
      All very confusing given statements about welcoming investment, innovation, agility …
      I can’t wait for the privatisation of nbn discussion in about 2020 (let’s see if lessons from power or transport infrastructure in the Sydney basin will be applied, privatisation of a vertically integrated Telecom/ OTC from 1997, FoxTel/ Austar vs OptusVision, offloading of Aussat with more than three times debt over equity from 1991).

      Perhaps both major parties need to bring Infrastructure Australia in on this, not just Productivity Commission, Communications/ DBCDE/ DCITA/ ACMA, ACCC how that corporate plan, audit, strategic review have been done, like the dollar is handled by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
      About time someone redid the math, connecting the why, how and what.
      After all, nbn/ NBN/ PMG mk2/ PMG lite was based mostly on a national pricing scheme, off budget, rather than let competition sort extended metro, and subsidise regional, rural and remote?
      Do a sea or tree change strategy, instead of ever higher population density in extended metro, which goes beyond agriculture, resources, non-value added manufacturing, and takes into account services, knowledge and experiences?
      Because the alternative is a banana republic, subject to a resources curse, aka New Holland Disease, commodity peaks and troughs, trying to compete on cost rather than value.
      Focus on advancing Australia fair, opportunity, cost of living, education, healthcare, infrastructure, even human rights and (homeland) security. How about leasing the NT to America or Singapore, and use the funds for regional and beyond development?

      Hope is not a plan.

    • Well Reality unlike the USA where there are a lot of mini monopolies with almost no over build which now Google is making them all scared.

      We just have one big one and as the HFC wars we had showed why there was a lack of investment.

      • Yeah they don’t wholesale to each other (neither does google) so it makes the margins considerably better.

    • Something to consider is that our primary urban areas (the capital cities and regional centres) are actually quite high density, sometimes higher in fact than locations in the US.

      But that is actually not the issue. The issue is gross population. We have only 20+ million people. US has 300 million plus. Economies of scale don’t bring the benefit to a private corporate in Australia, that they do in the US.

      Hence one of the reasons why it was so hard to get the corporates to do anything without giving them ridiculous monopoly access, and why the NBN was conceived in the first place. The government could wear the lower ROI better than a corporate could. (Well it could prior to it being gutted).

  19. Murdoch Entertainment’s Australian has a piece on baffled neighbours i/c Coulson Street in Erskineville NSW, which reads like a fluffy press release with minimal editing.
    On the fed gov’s mybroadband, 1 Coulson Street, Erskineville NSW shows as having C quality fibre, A quality HFC, A quality ADSL (suggested speed 16+ Mbps), so why is nbn/ NBN there now? The article mentions the complications of scheduling, and also mentions revenue.
    Should it not be doing broadband blackspots first?
    The article mentions duplicating Openetworks infrastructure in two multi-user dwellings.
    So who determines if a premises is adequately served?
    There’s also 4G.
    Some stuff on gaming, downloads, if not education, remote working, telehealth …

    • the Coalition amended whatever provisions Labor made for the NBN by providing this exact loophole.

      What provisions did Labor make that forced Telstra to wholesale any new copper infrastructure?

  20. “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.”
    It’s very simple. Telstra want to maintain the monopoly they have in providing services on cables they lay. They can’t do this with fibre so they do it with copper. They do it with copper because the Coalition amended whatever provisions Labor made for the NBN by providing this exact loophole.

    As is typical, slimey wordplay from all the major players. Atrocious and completely unexpected. Surprised Delimiter doesn’t see what’s going on here.

    • the Coalition amended whatever provisions Labor made for the NBN by providing this exact loophole.

      What provisions did Labor make that forced Telstra to wholesale any new copper infrastructure?

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