NBN Co's plan to pilot the delivery of fibre to the premises in Tasmania using energy provider Aurora's power poles has been labelled as a political stunt in the lead up to the Tasmanian election.
Last week, Tasmania's Liberal opposition leader Will Hodgman accidentally admitted in front of live microphones that the federal Coalition government's moves to end a previous promise to complete the fibre network build in Tasmania could cost him the election scheduled for March 15.
Since then, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has flagged that he will be working with Hodgman in order to assess alternative ways for NBN Co to continue the fibre rollout in the state, including using Aurora's power poles, as the company has previously suggested. Tasmanian Labor's policy includes free access to those poles for NBN Co.
In a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday, NBN Co executive chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski said that NBN Co would soon begin a trial of Aurora's proposal.
"We've got our chief operating officer Greg Adcock in communications with Visionstream and Aurora in Tasmania. We're at the point now where we would like to find two or three communities where we can run a control trial of a Visionstream-Aurora aerial build out of a fibre network and compare it with what a fibre-to-the-node network might cost, as well as the current fibre-to-the-premises cost base," he said.
NBN Co head of corporate Kevin Brown said that the trial could start as early as before the election.
"We need to get the design done to enable us to string the cables up [but] I would expect that to be finalised within the next month, and whether it commences in the next month depends on which place and Aurora's availability," he said.
"But Aurora's committed to doing it. We want to do it, and we want to see what the real cost of actually building it, and the real cost of doing it is."
The initial trial is expected to cover between 2,000 and 2,800 premises, but the trial has already come under criticism from the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, which said the trial is unnecessary and simply a political stunt. The union said that approximately 17,500 homes across Tasmania are already connected to the NBN using electricity poles.
"The trial has already been done, thousands of Tasmanians already enjoy a fibre-to-the-premises NBN delivered via the above-ground electricity network, so we know this is an effective, affordable, and realistic way of providing the NBN to all Tasmanians," CEPU Tasmanian branch state organiser Emma Gill said in a statement.
"Turnbull knows this, but instead of committing to using this proven technology, he is proposing yet another trial, which is simply wasting time and money.
"Another trial, when the technology is proven, is about one thing only: Deflecting heat from Will Hodgman two weeks out from the election."