The National Broadband Network fibre request for tender issued last week by Tasmanian state-owned energy company Aurora is for an estimated $3 million purchase, new tender documents revealed this week.
In an addendum to the RFT in which Aurora had answered potential bidders' questions about the work, the question was asked: "Estimated budget for this purchase?" The answer given by Aurora: "Estimated at AU$3.0m".
In an interview with ZDNet.com.au published this week Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett said the tender released was for "thousands of kilometres" of fibre. "We also last week tendered for thousands of kilometres of glass, and we are making announcements in the next little while about where the first towns where FTTH will happen," he said.
However, according to an industry source extremely experienced in acquiring fibre, $3 million would cover around 400 to 500 kilometres, which would be too short to be considered for a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) roll-out.
A more likely scenario for an acquisition of this amount, said the source, would be to provide a redundant link between Launceston and Hobart, which would likely support the recently opened Basslink cable for which Aurora has agreed to be the key customer. Another option could be to provide the core backbone for a later FTTH roll-out in the state, said the source.
Still, there is likely to be another significant order from Aurora that stands outside the $3 million estimated by Aurora. The RFT was separated into two components: "stock items" and "project items". Under project items the RFT noted: "Aurora Energy may have the need for a single one-off purchase of a significant quantity of cable for an upcoming project."
The release of the RFT was hailed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett as "Stage 1" of Tasmania's NBN. The two tiers of government have been under increasing pressure to release a tender to ensure the NBN project in Tasmania followed correct tender procedures, whilst also meeting the Rudd Government's plan at the announcement in April to commence the Tasmanian fibre build by July.
However, labelled as Stage 1 of the state's NBN roll-out, which has been estimated to cost up to $700 million, the $3 million estimated value of the initial acquisition represents less than 0.5 per cent of the project's total value.
Bartlett also brushed aside comments that Tasmanian NBN was behind schedule. "We're not behind schedule," he said. "It's become a bit of an urban myth. Effectively Aurora ... has been continuing to roll out fibre — backbone or backhaul — but that fibre will become part of the NBN as these assets are transferred to the TNBN Co that Senator Conroy and I announced last week. Just because there hasn't been a formal hand over of cash or assets to NBN Co doesn't mean things haven't been happening," he said.
Bartlett said in the coming weeks the state would outline what assets would be put into the TNBN Co, highlighting that Aurora's fibre assets were worth around $100 million in contrast to the $700 million expected to be tipped in by the Federal Government. The fibre roll-out is expected to cover 85 to 90 per cent of Tasmania's population, said Bartlett.