NBN: Labor to offer ‘greater proportion of fibre’, still not sold on FTTN

Shorten offers hints about the NBN policy Labor will take to the election

Labor leader Bill Shorten has offered new hints at the shape of the NBN policy that his party will take to the election.

“What we will do is we will have a greater proportion of fibre in our solution on NBN,” Shorten said during an interview with ABC Radio. “We’re not going to rip up everything the Liberals have done,” he added.

Labor wouldn’t “start again at scratch,” Shorten said.

However the National Broadband Network under a Labor government would have “much more fibre,” he said. The opposition leader added that Labor is not satisfied that “just sending it to the node is a sufficient solution”.

Earlier this year, in an address to the CommsDay Summit in Sydney, shadow communications minister Jason Clare hinted that Labor may be willing to embrace fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) as an alternative to fibre to the node (FTTN).

Currently FTTN is one of the key fixed-line technologies slated to be used in the ‘multi-technology mix’ NBN rollout, alongside hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) and fibre to the premises (FTTP). Labor’s original vision would have seen FTTP rolled out to households in the NBN fixed-line footprint.

FTTdp involves a much shorter length of copper to connect an end user compared to FTTN. FTTP involves hooking households up directly to fibre.

“NBN Co has now conceded that the cost of rolling out fibre to the pit out the front of your house is now almost the same cost as fibre to the node,” Clare said in his speech.

“The difference is currently about $400. According to NBN Co fibre to the node is now $1600 per home and the cost of fibre to the pit out the front of your house (fibre to the distribution point) is $2000 per home.

“The capex is a bit more; the opex is a bit less – remember no nodes, no extra copper, no extra copper maintenance, no electricity bills. And remember this doesn’t count the cost of coming back years later and rolling out more fibre in fibre to the node areas.”

“The big difference is what the customer gets,” Labor’s broadband spokesperson said. “And the difference here is massive.”

“Fibre to the driveway provides download speeds that are up to 10 times faster than Malcolm Turnbull’s fibre to the node network. Given this – if NBN Co can roll out fibre to almost your front door for almost the same cost as fibre to the node and give you much higher speeds – why aren’t they doing it?”

As with Shorten's latest comments, Clare didn't mention HFC. The original plan for the NBN would have seen the HFC networks shut down.

NBN has previously announced it is investigating the potential of FTTdp to hook up a minority of premises.

In its application this month to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to vary its Special Access Undertaking (SAU), NBN sought to ensure there was scope to potentially include FTTdp as a future access technology. The SAU governs NBN’s operations as a wholesaler provider of network access.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has said that desktop high-level analysis had shown FTTdp might potentially be employed for around 300,000 premises as an alternative to FTTN or fixed wireless.

“The reality with fibre to the distribution point is that it is still in the very early stages of its development,” Morrow said during a Senate Estimates hearing in May.

“We are intending to go forward. We have plans in place to where we are going to do more of an actual field trial of building using both the skinny fibre and the fibre-to-the-distribution-point technology. We will learn a bit more from that around what the costs are and what the true applications are.

“At the same time we will look at our IT systems, the network release systems, that have to be put in place and we will begin to work with the retail service providers on the changes that they need. But realistically, on the chances of this getting deployed in a commercial fashion, it is not going to be before the end of next year.”

“I think it will be another tool available to us as a part of the mix. I think that with this technology-agnostic, ‘get access to everybody as soon as possible’, ‘make sure we keep the tax to the taxpayer as low as possible' focus — and therefore we do have a reasonable internal rate of return — fibre to the distribution point will play a role,” Morrow said.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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