Telstra must fix "dilapidated" copper for Libs' FttN NBN: iiNet

Telstra must fix "dilapidated" copper for Libs' FttN NBN: iiNet

Summary: iiNet CTO hopes for cherry-picking law repeal, greenfields clarity and a Telstra commitment to improve copper fault remediation as company reworks its investment strategy around the new Coalition government's FttN-based NBN policy.


“Absolutely enormous” difficulties in getting Telstra to fix copper network faults confirm the value of fault-free fibre networks, iiNet’s chief technology officer has argued while outlining the company’s efforts to accommodate the new Coalition government’s FttN strategy and expected legislative changes.

Speaking to the recent CommsDay Melbourne Congress, iiNet CTO John Lindsay said that Telstra’s ongoing struggle to fix faults with its “dilapidated” copper network in a timely manner regularly posed challenges for ISPs seeking to build on that network – and that the VDSL2 technology at the core of Coalition’s strategy would require a mammoth commitment from Telstra to work effectively.

iiNet CTO John Lindsay talks NBN, FttN at CommsDay Melbourne Congress 2013
iiNet experiencing "absolutely enormous" problems with Telstra copper fault fixes: Lindsay. Photo: David Braue

“It’s not so much that Telstra copper can’t actually be put into good order to provide VDSL2 service if there’s actually the demand to do that,” he told ZDNet Australia. “It’s more the challenge that wholesale customers of Telstra – and even, observably, retail customers of Telstra – have in getting copper faults fixed.”

“There are some portions of Telstra’s network that are really in a quite dilapidated state,” he continued. “The harsh reality is that there is quite a lot of very old, paper insulated, lead sheathed, gas filled cables that were installed in the 1950s and 1960s. Where that lead sheathing has deteriorated, the gas gets out and water gets in – and while paper is an awesome insulator when it’s dry, it’s a conductor when it’s wet.”

By contrast, customers connected to Labor’s fibre-to-the-premise (FttP) network were experiencing a “very, very low” fault rate that Lindsay said confirmed fibre was demonstrably superior to the existing copper. Yet with FttP on the wane as the Coalition’s policy kicked in, iiNet was re-emphasising its commitment to VDSL2 – and hoped that Telstra would do the same.

“That [old copper] part of the network poses a real problem,” he said. “The problems we face every day for customers connected by copper, and having those faults fixed, are absolutely enormous. An investment of effort to actually improve the quality of the copper could see a remarkable improvement in service – but at the end of the day it comes down to your willingness to maintain the infrastructure.”

iiNet under the Coalition

Lindsay’s comments were part of a wide-ranging speech in which he outlined the company’s successes so far under Labor’s FttP model – to which it has already connected some 20,000 customers – and its ongoing response to the election of the Coalition government, whose dependence on Telstra’s copper infrastructure had already caused a shift in some strategic investment.

In the wake of the Coalition’s election win, iiNet is running over 30 DSLAM builds to upgrade capacity at the most overloaded of its 440 exchange sites, where it had either run out or nearly run out of available ports to connect new customers.

“Our expectation was that the [Labor] NBN was going to be at quite large scale, and we were expecting to be decommissioning quite large sites by now,” Lindsay said, “but that’s not happening.”

“Our expectation was that the [Labor] NBN was going to be at quite large scale, and we were expecting to be decommissioning quite large sites by now, but that’s not happening.”

Even as it invests in new technology to support its copper-based business, Lindsay outlined some of the items on its wishlist for telecommunications policy under the Coalition government.

This included a hope that the party’s stated commitment to improve competition would result in the repealing of Labor-era ‘anti cherry picking’ laws that restrict new private-sector fibre rollouts to protect the fibre NBN from infrastructure competition.

“We are encouraged by the suggestion that there will be an attempt to increase infrastructure competition,” Lindsay said, “and we take that to mean that the anti cherry picking legislation that prevents us from extending our fibre networks more than 1km, for instance, should actually be removed.”

“However, based on our experience when the Rudd government was elected in 2007, I recall [former communications minister] Stephen Conroy saying that changing the direction of the department after the election was incredibly difficult. There is a mountain of things the new government wants to get through Parliament, and removing anti cherry picking legislation may not be at the top of that list.”

Other FttN-related issues on iiNet’s radar include the need for clarity around responsibility for greenfield fibre connections; whether FttN would look like wholesale ‘bitstream’ ADSL with “obligatory” PSTN; whether a FttN network would use the same points of interconnect (PoI) model as the established network; how voice services would be structured; whether NBN Co would be held to a customer service guarantee for all of its connections; and how NBN Co would revise its product set and pricing.

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Government AU, Telcos, Australia


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • It’s OK. No need to panic iiNet. I'm sure Telstra can do all it needs to in the next 1173 days. Turnbull has it all figured out.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Why?

    Telstra "must" not do anything.

    Why should Telstra invest billions of dollars into fixing it's copper network just so IINet can use it to sell services in direct competition to Telstra?
    The suggestion defies any kind of common sense.

    Telstra is a company, not a charity and as a share holder I would be demanding the heads of the management and board if they even considered this.

    If IINet and others want (and need) the copper fixed up in order for their business model to work then they should be prepared to foot their fair share of the cost to do so.
    • Because customers

      Because if iiNet needs this - it is because the line is poor quality and the customer is suffering.

      No matter which ISP the user is buying DSL from they are buying it on the poor quality copper.

      Because if the ISP is renting the line from Telstra then in effect the customer is paying for Telstra to supply a quality line. It is actually quite shameful that Telstra can charge money for a substandard line that is in many cases not fir for the purpose it is now used for.

      What is your issue here? iiNet is a customer.

      This is capitalism - the line is the capital and rents it.

      Why do people expect the renter to pay for the property being rented. That's not how capitalism works.

      You use your capital to obtain goods that you sell or rent to others. You don't ask your customer to be the source of capital. That's all backwards.
    • Why ? Because it's the law that's why !

      These foolish statements that Telstra is 'just a business' and they should not have a responsibility to keep their network in good condition shows a complete ignorance of the historic and legal consequences of such negligence.

      The Telstra copper network exists because you (well maybe not you but your parents) and I paid for it with our tax dollars. When the Telstra corporation was privatised it was rightly feared at the time we would be creating a massive monopoly in the telecommunications sector that no other company in the world could or would challenge. Optus tried to build a rival wired telecommunications network, which resulted in a complete disaster where very few suburbs actually have access to Optus AND Telstra copper, which at least results in some competition over who's copper you can buy to deliver your telecommunications service.

      Take a few minutes to read the above, you'll see that Telstra are LEGALLY mandated to repair customer faults. Unfortunately the law is far lagging behind technology since it only requires them to repair faults with PSTN networks, and not VOIP networks which are becoming very popular. It also greatly reduces what repairs are actually required of Telstra, since PSTN will work over lines that can't even carry a DSL signal.

      So despite your misguided and ignorant attempts to defend Telstra's sovereignty in this matter, they do have to repair faults on their network !
  • Lack of an edit button ?

    Come on Zdnet, this isn't 1996 anymore. Provide an edit button !

    But in furtherance of the above post, Telstra really needs to move with the times and up their commitment to their own copper network or start replacing it with fibre. Telstra themselves are admitting that their over-priced (high margined) PSTN monopoly is nearing it's end, and if they aren't careful they are very much in danger of going the same way as Kodak.

    Kodak helped invent the digital camera, and a complete failure on their part to innovate in their industry and lead led to the decline of film based photography, their No 1 money earner (much like Telstra and PSTN) and their eventual bankruptcy. Even worse for Telstra is they have an extremely high capital expense contend with.

    Despite the fact that they would lose their exploitative advantage the best thing in the world for Telstra would be the legislative split of Retail and Wholesale arms since then they would retain their retail customers and lose their dilapidated, run down expensive copper network. They might actually need to become competitive in their pricing, and more than likely their mismanagement of the copper network would come back on the tax payer (AGAIN) but they would mostly keep their monopoly through sheer public apathy to change telecommunication providers.
  • Telstra no longer wants the copper

    Telstra made it clear in 2005 that it no longer wants the copper, when it asked John Howard for funds to move to FTTP for all new dwellings, and to upgrade the copper with FTTN for existing ones.

    Telstra's copper didn't get upgraded, and the fibre didn't get built, because John Howard rightly recognised this as further entrenching Telstra's monopoly in an era when competition was being used to drive better services, which partly worked, and partly didn't work.

    When 99.25% of Telstra shareholders approved the NBNCo handover for $11 billion, it was predicated on removing the billion-plus annual maintenance bill from the copper, and on getting access to much higher retail revenues when 93% would have much higher bandwidth ceilings on fibre.

    After the latest election, David Thodey reiterated Telstra's position that under no circumstances will Telstra contemplate taking back maintenance responsibility for the copper under any new contract. Telstra will make it fit to hand over to NBNCo, but the government will have to maintain the copper if it does not overbuild it with fibre. Telstra wants to make money retailing services (calls, content, cloud hosting, data storage, backhaul), not maintaining infrastructure to private homes.

    So, now, we taxpayers should tell Malcolm Turnbull that if we are going to maintain infrastructure going forward, it should be low-maintenance, century-life fibre, not high-maintenance 30-year-life copper.

    I would add that Telstra is bound by corporations law to maximise its return on assets for shareholders. I do not condemn it for doing so. NBNCo has a great contract in place, where for instance Telstra (not the taxpayer) is responsible for asbestos remediation. It would be folly to lose this, which is likely if the contract is renegotiated.
  • Sub-loop unbundling

    From watching overseas experiences it gets really interesting when you need to regulate sub-loop unbundling - the bit from the FttN "node" to the end customer. Will NBN Co share the cabinets, is Telstra required to provide "other operator" access mid-span and so on.

    Other operators forced into LLU have jumped into FttN as a way of getting out ahead again. Was surprised Telstra was slow off that mark.
  • Copper lines are for PSTN phone calls

    The copper cables were designed for PSTN phone calls. Not digital DSL. The NBN#1 was suppose to replace the aging copper network, now the new government wants to extend it beyond it EOL date which for many cables may have passed already. As for gas coming out of Lead cables, I think there is already too much gas coming out of Canberra.
  • Dilapidated Copper

    The truth is out now.
    Turnbull expects us to use ancient dilapidated copper designed for phone calls as the basis for a 21st century digital network. What a joke!

    The Liberals FTTN policy is a dilapidated policy produced by ignorant dilapidated politicians.
  • Not Ignorant, just Devious

    Turnbull knows only too well how limiting the copper is that's why he invests his own money in overseas fibre networks.
    But here in Australia he needs to cripple a far superior fibre investment in order to lessen it's impact on Telstra/Foxtel/News Ltd from overseas competitors while preserving their HFC income & maintaining Murdoch's support.
    It's all about self interest, lies & spin in order to preserve the status quo & continue gouging the public for maximum profit with minimal product.