news Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has broken cover to openly slam a Fibre to the Distribution Point (FTTdp) model for the National Broadband Network, in the first explicit sign that the Coalition will not substantially modify its NBN model for the Federal Election.
Labor’s original model for the NBN involved deploying a near-universal Fibre network all the way to Australian homes and business premises, representing the best possible technology to serve the nation’s telecommunications need for the 50-100 years.
However, citing cost and speed of deployment concerns, the Abbott and Turnbull administrations have substantially modified this model since taking power in 2013, integrating the legacy copper and HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus, in a so-called ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ model.
Although it has not yet announced its new NBN policy, it is not expected that Labor would return to its original Fibre to the Premises model if it wins the election. Instead, the party is expected to announce it will support a FTTdp model in which Fibre is extended to customers’ driveways but not their actual premises, as well as maintaining the existing HFC cable extension plans.
This model promises to deliver most of the cost benefits of the Coalition’s MTM model, while also delivering significantly enhanced speeds. However, it will also leave those on HFC cable with questions about long-term upgrades.
Like Labor, the Coalition has not yet confirmed its NBN election policy.
However, in an article in The Australian newspaper this morning, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield explicitly panned the FTTdp model. Delimiter recommends readers click here for the full article.
The newspaper quotes the Liberal Senator as describing FTTdp as “fantasy fibre”, adding that a shift to FTTdp would result in the NBN rollout “stopping” for the full 2017 calendar year while the FTTdp model was tested, as well as potentially causing havoc with the NBN company’s financials.
NBN chief executive Bill Morrow has previously stated that the combination of cheaper fibre cables (‘skinny fibre’) and the FTTdp model was still in its early phase of development, and required further trials to be carried out before its viability could be established.
The NBN company said in mid-March: “FTTdp is an exciting prospect for the company but it is a very new technology. FTTdp is not currently being deployed anywhere in the world at scale. A lot more work needs to be done in terms of field testing of the equipment for Australian conditions. We also need to know more about the financials and the rollout logistics.”
Fifield’s comments this week come as the Senator and other Liberal figures have been hinting for the past several weeks that the Coalition would not support a FTTdp model for the NBN, and in fact would not change its current MTM model at all for the Federal Election.
Last week The Coalition appeared to have kicked off a campaign designed to discredit Labor’s management of the NBN, with at least one Liberal MP relying on party-supplied material to claim that “$40 billion was wasted” during its early days.
And during NBN Budget Estimates hearings several weeks ago, Liberal Senator James Paterson — a former long-term staffer of Fifield — asked NBN’s Morrow a number of questions which appeared designed to highlight flaws with the proposed FTTdp model.
The NBN team openly stated that it would take longer to roll out FTTdp than FTTN, that it was far too early to state what precise role it could play in the NBN, that its field trials were not yet advanced, and even that retail ISPs weren’t keen on FTTdp unless it could be rolled out at scale.
“It’s very nascent at this point,” said Morrow.
After some discussion along these lines, Paterson asked NBN chief Bill Morrow to confirm that it would be a “reasonable summary” that he wasn’t “particularly excited” about the potential for FTTdp.
Morrow replied that the technology was just “another tool available to us as part of the mix”.
Here we have it, people: It’s now pretty much official. The Coalition will not be changing its NBN policy for the election. It is remaining committed to Fibre to the Node and HFC cable.
Bill Shorten and Jason Clare, the ball is now in your court. What you got?
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting