Defying the Senate: NBN Co refuses to disclose brand new copper needs past 1800km


news The NBN company has flatly refused to say how much brand new copper it needs beyond its existing reserves of 1800km to make its Fibre to the Node broadband rollout model function correctly, in response to a question by one of the most powerful Senators overseeing its operations.

In Senate Estimates hearings in October last year, the NBN company made the remarkable revelation that it was purchasing 1800km of brand new copper cable to a cost of about $14 million.

At the time, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow said the new copper cable was not being used to replace Telstra’s ageing copper network, which is being used as part of the Turnbull Government’s preferred Multi-Technology Mix approach to the National Broadband Network, but rather to make interconnections between Telstra’s existing distribution ‘pillars’ to the new ‘nodes’ which the NBN company is deploying.

The revelation caused outrage in Australia’s technology sector.

In 2016, it is becoming uncommon for new copper cables to be laid either in Australia or globally, due to the fact that the technology has been superceded by fibre-optic cable, which are technically superior on every measure.

At the hearings, Labor Senator Anne Urquhart asked the NBN company to clarify how much, on average, each pillar to node connection would need, as well as the current estimate was of the amount the NBN company would need to spend on brand new copper to deploy its Fibre to the Node and Fibre to the Basement connections to a planned 4.5 million premises around Australia.

In recent answers (PDF) to those questions filed with the Senate Environment and Communications Committee — of which Urquhart is one of the chairs — the NBN company confirmed it would need about 350 metres per node of brand new copper.

However, the company refused to answer Urquhart’s question of how much it would need to spend on brand new copper to deploy the MTM model around Australia.

“Due to ongoing supplier negotiations, the estimated cost and distance of new copper for the full FTTN rollout is commercial in confidence,” the company said.

According to the Senate’s own rules, the NBN company is not allowed to withhold information from the Senate on a commercial in confidence basis.

The Senate’s website states:

“A Senate order, adopted on 30 October 2003, states that, ‘the Senate and Senate committees shall not entertain any claim to withhold information from the Senate or a committee on the grounds that it is commercial-in-confidence, unless the claim is made by a minister and is accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim, including a statement of any commercial harm that may result from the disclosure of the information.”

In practice, whether the NBN company is forced to reveal the information would depend on a vote of the Senate Environment and Communications Committee, which can compel the company to release the information. The Committee features a mix of Labor, Coalition and Greens senators.

The numerical make-up of the Committee means that it may be easier for opposition parties — Labor and the Greens — to source the information through the dedicated NBN Senate Select Committee, which the Greens holds the balance of power on.

Freedom of Information?
The NBN company is also proving reluctant to disclose details of its copper cable orders through the Freedom of Information proess.

On 20 January, Delimiter contacted the NBN company requesting the company release any document which constituted a purchase order for copper cable in the 2015 or 2016 calendar years. Delimiter noted that it was content for commercial in confidence information to be redacted from the documents released.

However, the NBN company has sent several communications back to Delimiter noting that finds the request confusing. “As per the terms of your request, it is unclear as to whether you are seeking specific documents or rather information,” the NBN company’s general counsel in charge of FOI requests, David Mesman, wrote in response.

Mesman also noted that the NBN company was likely to consider the release of purchase orders relating to its brand new copper needs as being commercial in confidence, although he admitted he had not yet examined the documents which would potentially be released.

The NBN company is not the only Australian telco which is currently deploying brand new copper cable around Australia.

The nation’s largest telco Telstra recently confirmed it was deploying brand new copper to many new housing estates. The telco stated that it was being forced to do so by government policy which stated that it was the provider of last resort in those estates. The telco wishes to sell retail voice telephony services over its new infrastructure, but believes that it cannot do so if it deploys fibre cables instead of copper.

Seems like the NBN company is a little … sensitive … about the hard numbers in terms of how much brand new copper it is deploying around Australia. If anyone can provide Delimiter with some updated stats on this matter, you know where our secure anonymous tips form is.

In the meantime, I would encourage the NBN Senate Select Committee to compel the NBN company to provide this information. I think the Australian public deserves to know just how much brand new copper is being deployed around Australia as a result of the Coalition’s controversial MTM NBN policy, and how much it costs.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. ABSOLUTELY THE WHOLE LOT NEEDS TO GO. Cost blowouts to hundreds of billions just to prevent fibre and defend Murdoch.

  2. how much copper are we mining per year?
    about half of that would be used for MTM…

  3. I am also concerned about how much copper will end up being rolled out. The 1800km is likely the tip of the iceberg.

    • The 1800km was only for 6 months of connecting pillar to node…then there’s the other 4 1/2 years of FTTN +remediation work…so “craploads” will be the answer, but crap is CiC…

  4. And this is why we are failing as a country – because despite lots of areas from consumer protection to government transparency sounding like they are designed to protect the public, when it comes down to it there is little to stop companies etc from refusing to comply because there are few if any penalties. Companies that are in breach of consumer protection laws aren’t fined, even large companies like Telstra that are fined for breaches make ten times as much by exploiting such a breach than they are actually fined, making the law essentially toothless and little more than a platitude. Look at FoI law – it’s barely worth the paper it’s written on.

    • Here’s the fun part…

      You will actually get people who say that NBN is doing nothing wrong and this “commercial in confidence” shenanigans is the proper way to answer because it *is* a company and doing so may reduce the value of said company and so forth.

      Of course we’ll just conveniently gloss over the difference between a commercial private enterprise/business and a government business entity while were at it eh?

      • Yes and normally the same one’s who wanted 100% transparency from Quigley & Co…


        • Who are these mysterious “people”?

          Seems like a constant feature in these threads, there will always be a few people who complain loudly about the horde of luddites about to descend, but apart from 1-2 commenters, the rain never comes. I really like the ones that do the whole “… about… now…”, and the only answer is crickets chirping… X D

          You guys have a decent persecution complex going on, but it’s tripping in to paranoia, there just aren’t that many people that care enough about your waffle to argue with you. ; )

          On topic, transparency good, obfuscation bad, but it’s delightfully appropriate (it’s not ironic, that would involve a surprise) that the ALP (who hid behind CiC for years re: the NBN) are getting stonewalled by the same excuse.

          • As much as I hate to agree with this individual, he is right. The level of “here come the XXXXers” is a bit silly.

            On Topic also. Can you give specific instances? The only stonewalling I clearly remember was when people where trying to get some figures early. As in figures that were going to be released on x date etc.

            Also, even if they were stonewalling, that is really irrelevant, as the point is the stonewalling happening now. I disagree with that at any point. I personally think CiC is a great big load of horseshit in *most* situations.

          • “On topic, transparency good, obfuscation bad, but it’s delightfully appropriate (it’s not ironic, that would involve a surprise) that the ALP (who hid behind CiC for years re: the NBN) are getting stonewalled by the same excuse”

            Except Quigley didn’t…..

          • “Oh so it’s ok to defy the Senate but it depends how it is done.”

            But… he didn’t defy the Senate. He refused to release it without it going through the proper process. Which is pretty standard practice.

            Morrow is legitimately refusing… No process to be gone through, just flat out refusing.

            The fact you don’t see the difference is….. well, not actually astounding because you’re a blinkered libtroll.

          • After six months they will order some more xx copper at xx price, along with xx fibre at xx price, then six months after that……

            If a Labor NBN Co is formed they will follow he same process.

            yep got how it works.

          • @ org’asmo

            Nice (attempted) deflection…

            But yet regardless and inevitably… here you and your mate are once again, doing exactly as I predicted…

      • Trans Pacific Partnership might agree with you. Always put the companies needs before a countries needs.

    • I would like to add my voice to this. A royal commission is needed, warranted, and would be far more sensible than some of the other royal commissions that have been created in the past.
      How do these things get started? Does it have to be called for by the parliament of the day?

      • I just tried to Google it. I’m still unclear on the details. It looks like they are initiated by the governor or governor general at the request of the government, and that they are called by both federal and by state governments.
        Does that mean a state government could issue a royal commission that could investigate a federal issue such as the NBN?
        I.e. could Jay W from SA ask Hieu Van Le to start an RC into NBN?

  5. The lack of transparency from these partisan operators is frankly disgraceful!

    We need a royal commission!

  6. 60,000 nodes x 350m = 21 million meters of copper or 21,000km of copper.

    This is a joke – please tell me it’s a joke!

      • and says ‘Barman give me idiot on the rocks’, and the Barman replies ‘Richard your wanted over here’.

    • That’s only the average of the copper from the node to the pillars. That doesn’t include any copper remediation required between the pillar and the premises. So…… yeaaaaah……

      • that is paired/individual cabling and not the 100-200 pair cables that this purchase and past are referring too.

        The whole point of FttN is they don’t have to touch what comes out of the pillar into your home.

        • I am well aware of the point of FTTN. However, there will still be remediation for some premises, unless you think that some people not getting better than ADSL speeds with VDSL is fine if their cabling is shot to hell.

          • If their cabling is ‘shot to hell’ they’ll get substantially worse service than ADSL. VDSL puts more data down the pipe (copper) by (roughly speaking) increasing the signal rate (frequency). There’s nothing new in that approach – that’s how 10 base-t increases to 100 and 1gbps, how USB and SATA and Thunderbolt and every communications bus you can think of increases performance – they increase the frequency, which shortens the wavelength, and you can push more information through because it can suddenly send a lot more pulses per second than it could previously.

            Unfortunately the higher the frequency the more susceptible it is to interference from noise and attenuation. Sound and radio signals and even light work the same way – lower frequencies travel further and are more ‘resilient’ than shorter wavelength, higher frequencies. That’s why TV signals used to take up all the low frequency bands and why mobile phone communications want to license those bands now, and it’s why you only hear the bass from passing cars, stripped of the mid and high range sounds in the music, because only low frequency signals will punch through the skin of the car and the walls of your house.

            So back to FTTN / VDSL2. To make it work faster over the same physical cables, they increase the frequency. That does give you much better performance, but only over shorter distances, and it is much more susceptible to interference. At 800m ADSL2+ is faster than VDSL2. Over low quality copper ADSL1 is probably faster than either ADSL2+ or VDSL2.

            But you can’t have a VDSL2 network with ADSL gear running within it – as I mentioned higher frequencies are more susceptible to interference, and EM interference from neighbouring wires within a bundle play havoc with VDSL2. So the solution is to tightly control the way signalling is done for the entire neighbourhood – switch everything over to VDSL2 and interference from neighbouring wires can be controlled and virtually eliminated.

            But anyone on longish (in VDSL terms) line lengths or anything but excellent quality copper will be screwed, as performance will actually be lower on VDSL2 / FTTN than it would have been on ADSL.

            While we don’t know precisely how bad every single bit of copper in Telstra’s network is, we know that some of it is in a terrible state, and that is cable Telstra won’t even fix because it hasn’t actually completely failed. If we just assume that only 10% of Telstra’s last mile copper is anything but excellent, that’s a hell of a lot of copper that will give people terrible trouble. How bad will it have to be to be replaced?

            *This* is why Turnbull’s promise of 25mbps was never workable – it is, literally, financially impossible, because of the sheer cost of replacing so much copper. Even replacing it with fibre, if you’re doing it on an ad hoc basis instead of filling the whole street with it, would be a financial nightmare.

            So the reality is that so much more copper will need to be replaced than just about anyone is daring to imagine at this point, and probably 90 of bad copper will just be left as is, with residents receiving a technical fault report stating that 25mbps was achievable for 1.5 seconds and therefore doesn’t require remediation, have-a-good-day! It can’t go any other way because the cost of replacing all the inadequate copper is astronomical.

            So reset your expectations – the figure, when we claw it from NBN Co’s stiff, bloodless hands, will be mind blowing, but it will still only be a small fraction of what is actually needed to give the whole country actually good Internet, even using FTTN’s underwhelming performance figures as a benchmark.

          • @Ronin my point is these figures are all about the larger bundles, afaik MTM haven’t gotten to the point of dealing with the last mile so to speak.

            I’m well aware of bad lines I get around half the speed I ought too but at least its now stable during weather events.

            Only way I see MTM caring if someone gets ‘crappy’ speeds if its below the minimum otherwise they’ll just likely act like Telstra with ADSL with ‘to bad so sad’ because our min is X and you still get x+0.0000001 therefore nothing is wrong that we need to fix.

          • Yes, I know the figures are only discussing the larger bundles between nodes and pillars… that… was what my original comment was referring to…

          • UG if I remember from the senate estimates I think the figure is 70% of the copper is stuffed that’s been quoted. Whether it’s true or not guess we will find out in the next couple of years

    • $14000000 / 1800000m of copper = $7.77 per metre

      21000000m * $7.77 = $163,170,000 of copper.

      • Gee Mendacious Mal has certainly done the country a great service, saving us from state of the art FTTP NBN, with his oh so expensive crappy FTTN. I’ll express my appreciation at the ballot box.

  7. No wukkas. Copper price keeps falling, no demand. If they take long enough to deploy it they can get it for almost nothing! Good economic choice – use what no one else wants!

  8. Well as other countries are digging up their copper and replacing it with fibre, I’m sure we can get some ‘good as new’ copper cheap! It’ll be as fit-for-purpose as the HFC they’re using, which is fine.

    But more seriously – contempt of Senate?
    Do us all a favor and impose penalties – “The Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 provides that a House of Parliament may impose terms of imprisonment or substantial fines for individuals and corporations as a penalty for contempt.”

    • Do you think it’s sane for the Liberal party to vote the company it controls in contempt? Please don’t try to tell me it’s an independent company.

      • But thankfully the Libs don’t control the senate…you’re still covered by medicare, send your kids to a “free” school, get penalty rates (if you work outside normal business hours) and get 4 weeks holiday a year…all things that supposedly we can do without to increase our productivity/profits for the already obscenely rich…

  9. There seems to be actual rules or legislation out there to get information out of NBN, I just don’t understand how they continue to refuse requests and why nobody is enforcing it.

    • Well, haven’t you heard that this is an “open, honest and transparent” government…there’s just so many issues in which this government as been open, honest and transparent with us…/s

    • Because as a commercial entity they can. By law you are allowed to not show commercial information (outside of a police investigation) which would damage your companies income/value. The amusing part is technically when Quigley was around they could have pulled the same shenanigans if only to reduce the amount of rubbish the then opposition was throwing at them…

      Quigley however saw it as his duty to actually show said reports and whatnot because he wasn’t treating NBN as a “commercial entity” (which it technically is) but a government infrastructure program which meant he felt obliged to show progress to the people what’s going on as well as their long term estimates even if it could prove wrong.

      Which is what makes all these “commercial in confidence” shenanigans of the new lot even more so of a stab in the back after being told “we’re getting more transparency!”

  10. But wait here come the ideologist apologists with even stupider fkn excuses (if that’s humanly possible)…. about… now…

  11. The NBN Co would not know especially in regards to remediation to the residence as they rollout each FTTN area how much new copper they eventually will need to finish the FTTN target, 1800 km may be ending up being more, about right, or not enough.

    • The 1800km of copper is only for connecting nodes to pillars, that was previously reported.

      That 1800km is only for the current nodes being rolled out, as reported above an average of 350m of copper is required per node to connect them to the pillars.

      Even at a very, very, very low ball figure of 10,000 nodes (not even close to what they expect to use in the CP) by 350m of copper per node to connect them to pillars, that is 3,500,000m of copper, or 3500km of copper.

      So, in your world the 1800km of copper they have bought is going to be possibly “more” than they need for the entire rollout despite it being an average of 350 per node, and we will be seeing well over 10,000 nodes for the whole FTTN section.


    • In addition to that, that is only the estimate for the copper from the nodes to the pillars, and does not include any remediation work required from pillars to premises.

      Though, I am sure you are already formulating some way to twist this around and spew out something resembling coherent thought to support the LNP position.

    • Rubbish.

      They may not know exactly, but they would have estimates. ESPECIALLY if they are claiming CiC. The only way it could be CiC is if they are negotiating at a certain level.

    • Where are we going with this, the assertion is what, we have reached the brownfields $4,400 FTTP CPP with FTTN (currently at CPP $2,300) in Australia already or ‘real soon now’, because we may need [insert unknown $$ figure] of [insert unknown figure km] of copper over and above the 1800km already stated?

      • Nobody is asserting that at all, but even if they were, how much more expensive does FTTN have to become in your mind that until it isn’t worth doing?

        In your mind, is it okay for FTTN to be $4,399 CPP as long as FTTP remains at $4,400?

        Even though that isn’t what we are saying, we were promised transparency, this is obfuscation.

      • Where we are going, is to get an estimate of how much copper the MTMco will be buying to bolt vdsl onto the Australian copper network?

        We’d love an estimate of how much money they are spending, but a better estimate on how much is what really matters.

        • Well we know up front this current copper purchase is for six months the NBN have said this, so at the end of six months they will need to buy more for the next six months or whatever time period at whatever price copper is at that time.

          The same principle would apply for fibre either for FTTP or FTTN or FTTB, you forward plan for a time period and order accordingly from suppliers as you get near to running low you negotiate with suppliers and order more.

          So what’s the big deal here, the big deal is that it is that bad copper stuff and the Labor Senate committee need to keep pushing copper as the bogeyman.

          The Senate Environment and Communications Committee could ask how much fibre is being bought at what price and how long will it last, they could but they won’t.

          • “So what’s the big deal here, the big deal is that it is that bad copper stuff and the Labor Senate committee need to keep pushing copper as the bogeyman.”

            No, the big deal is hiding behind “Commercial in confidence” rubbish.

          • After six months they will order some more copper and no doubt they will order more fibre, FTTN and FAN cabinets and ducting etc etc.

            Yep I understand you need to keep ordering stuff for a national communications infrastructure rollout, otherwise it just stops.

            But we are really only interested in that copper bit, all the other bits are irrelevant.

          • The entire article, is about hiding behind CiC.

            Morrow could have said literally what you said, but no, he didn’t, he chose to hide and say it was “commercial in confidence”.

            Thus, it sounds like there is something to hide.

            Unless you think that there is some legitimate reason why he couldn’t just say “We have ordered copper for our needs for the next XX months, and will order more when it is required in the future”. It must be a super-duper secret then, because he had to hide behind CiC.

            Because I’m not stuck in a black and white world like you are, because I can see two sides of a story, I would be equally worried about the so called “transparency” we were promised if they hid behind CiC for everything, including FTTP and how much fibre they were purchasing. But you know, whatever man, continue harping on with your ridiculous victim complex. It is amusing to watch your dancing and twirling when trying to spin the next issue coming out of nbn(tm). I think I have lived in houses with more transparent walls than this mob.

            Cool story bro.

          • I don’t know why he said it either, ‘we will order some more copper in six months and we will know nearer to the date the quantity and at what cost it is’ sounds ok to me.

            I wouldn’t mind knowing how much fibre run in km’s $14M gets you, but I’m not on the Senate committee.


          • “we will order some more copper in six months and we will know nearer to the date the quantity and at what cost it is’ sounds ok to me.”
            Didn’t someone say that they would use FTTP in neighbourhoods that had useless copper infrastructure? Yet this is exactly what is not happening.

          • What they said is they would use FTTP if copper remediation was uneconomic in a particular area.

            Sorry to disappoint but that doesn’t mean the obsolete Labor NBN policy of 93% FTTP to residences is reactivated.


  12. I’d imagine that copper is really cheap now since we must be the only country in the world buying it to build a broadband network. Simple supply/demand!

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