TPG's FTTB plan could upset NBN: Switkowski

Outcome, not broadband technology, matters: NBN Co

Senator Stephen Conroy needles NBN Co at a Sydney hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network. Credit: Adam Bender

Senator Stephen Conroy needles NBN Co at a Sydney hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network. Credit: Adam Bender

The business case of the National Broadband Network will suffer if TPG and other telcos try to cherry-pick high-value properties including city apartments with fibre-to-the-basement plans, according to NBN Co chairman Ziggy Switkowski.

“The economics of NBN would be severely impacted,” Switkowski said.

TPG late last year announced it would offer unlimited 100Mbps plans for $69.99 based on fibre-to-the-basement technology. Senator Stephen Conroy said the TPG rollout is under way and indicated it may be something to which the government must respond.

Switkowski said NBN Co cannot afford to give up high-value properties critical to the functioning of the NBN business case.

“The policy says that the NBN … will be the exclusive wholesale provider of the National Broadband Network and it’s a policy that we are implementing. If there are infrastructure based enterprises that want to test the limits of that policy, they take a risk that NBN will respond in some way.”

Conroy asked if one response to fight TPG’s fibre-to-the-basement plans would be for NBN Co to provide fibre to the apartment. Switkowski agreed that is one of the possible response, but that it might also just take the same fibre-to-the-basement approach.

Switkowski clarified that he is not claiming TPG is not doing anything illegal. “TPG are within the law with what they are currently doing,” he said.

TPG has been approached for comment.

NBN Co this morning announced fibre-to-the-building trials had begun in eight Melbourne high rise apartment buildings. Telstra, Optus, iiNet and M2 are participating in the three month trial.

Technology not important: NBN Co

Australia’s “great misunderstanding” is that the technology used to deliver broadband makes a difference, according to NBN Co Chairman Ziggy Switkowski.

“It really doesn’t matter which technology is used to bring fast broadband to your home,” he said at a Sydney hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network.

“The important issue it delivers the speeds people need to day and it can be upgraded as demand requires.”

The NBN Co under Switkowski has advocated a multi-technology approach to the NBN that mixes fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), fibre-to-the-basement and HFC, in addition to fixed wireless and satellite for hard-to-reach areas. This is in contrast to the originally planned pure FTTP approach supported by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Not surprisingly, Conroy disagreed with Switkowski.

Saying that one technology is not better than another “ignores basic laws of physics,” the senator said.

“I have not accused anyone of being ignorant of the facts or physics,” replied Switkowski.

Senator Deborah O’Neill, who like Conroy is a member of the Labor party, said her main takeaway from witnesses at the NBN committee’s field hearing in the Central Coast yesterday was that the type of technology does matter. She said that was “at the heart” of what everyone said.

However, Liberal Senator Anne Ruston rebuked O’Neill, saying that the witnesses had not been picky about the type of technology but rather wanted the outcome of a fast Internet service.

Switkowski said he sympathised with the frustration voiced by Central Coast residents and businesses at the hearing in Terrigal, New South Wales.

“The Central Coast is a microcosm of what is happening in the NBN rollout across Australia,” he said.

“Some important progress, yes, but with ongoing challenges and a degree of community dissatisfaction.”

However, Swikowski continued to deflect blame for the slow progress to the previous NBN Co administration.

“Expectations were set high, but in many cases there were not being met,” he said. “The frustrations of people in areas like the Central Coast are real, but it is not my job to continuing setting unrealistic expectations.”

“It is my job—and the job of everyone at NBN Co—to get the company and the project back on track and the recently completed Strategic Review provides a clear roadmap to do this.”

Switkowski noted that the Central Coast is the site of technology trials and NBN Co expected to install the first node this week as part of the construction trial there.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags politicsbroadbandNBNStephen ConroyTPGParliamentfibre to the basementziggy switkowski

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