Copper network not 'ageing': Telstra

Telstra's managing director of wholesale, Stuart Lee, has defended the company's copper network, stating that Telstra has replaced parts of the network when required.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Ahead of renegotiation with NBN Co over access to its copper network, Telstra's managing director of its wholesale division Stuart Lee has defended the quality of the copper network, stating that it is fixed up as required.

This morning Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull talked up the advances in copper-based broadband technologies, and said that fibre-to-the-node would be able to offer faster speeds today with the flexibility to use a range of different technologies, depending on what the advancement in technology in the future demanded.

One of the frequently used arguments against a proposal for fibre to the node instead of fibre to the premises has been claims that Telstra's fixed line network has deteriorated to the state that it would not be possible to get higher speed services through VDSL2 and vectoring over the network. Often quoted is Telstra's head of government and corporate affairs, Tony Warren, who said in 2003 that the copper technology is "five minutes to midnight".

But a decade later, advancements in copper-based technology including VDSL and vectoring, and a National Broadband Network that is now looking to use the copper, Telstra now sees the benefits in its copper network. Lee told the Communications Day NBN Rebooted conference in Sydney today that he is "cross" when the copper network is described as "ageing".

"The other thing that makes me cross when I hear it, and I see it a lot in the press is the talk of the ageing copper network. It's not. It's not an ageing copper network. It's like grandfather's axe; it's had five new handles and three new heads. When it breaks, we replace the broken bit. So it's much the same as it always has been and always will be," he said.

"It's just an older technology, it's not that the asset itself has deteriorated."

A rise in Telstra's mass service disruptions on the copper network was not a sign that the network itself had deteriorated, he said, but just a reflection of the disasterous weather events that have hit Australia in recent times.

"They correlate to weather events, and the weather events we've had in the last [few years] is about five to six times the previous ones, so surprise surprise there is a lot more damage."

Lee did not say that the events were linked to climate change, stating he is "not a climate scientist."

The executive was also critical of NBN Co's handling of getting premises connected to the network, with over 70,000 premises NBN Co has declared as being "passed" by the fibre network, yet they cannot technically order a service. NBN Co is working to address these now as a priority under the Coalition, but Lee said that as some areas of the network are now preparing to disconnect the copper line, this gives retailers less time to move those customers over to the NBN.

"That gives us less time to move customers over in the 18-month window. In the absence of any information about when those premises will become servicable, for any RSP, the conversation becomes relatively difficult when you can't provide them any certainty as to when you will be able to provide them a service," he said.

"That is the key problem we see in greenfields today, where NBN Co has the responsibility , [it is] quite disabling."

iiNet's chief technology officer, John Lindsay also said that the potential for disconnecting customers from the ADSL network while they still can't order an NBN service was "madness" and slammed NBN Co's connectivity virtual circuit charge, comparing it to the Labor government's carbon tax, seeking to artificially limit the amount of bandwidth each customers uses.

"It's a tax on packets," he said.

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