Fibre to the node NBN offers 'optionality': Turnbull

Ahead of the release of NBN Co's strategic review, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that fibre to the node offers flexibility and optionality on future upgrades for broadband.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that using fibre to the node technology in the National Broadband Network (NBN) will offer flexibility and optionality for future upgrades of broadband.

Ahead of NBN Co handing its strategic review to the government in early December, Turnbull today addressed a two-day Communications Day conference looking at how the NBN will now change under the Coalition entitled NBN Rebooted. Turnbull told the conference this morning that from the time the NBN was first conceived, there had been rapid advances in fibre-to-the-node technology and data volumes were not growing at the rate they were in 2008.

"Today we see that the most recent [Cisco] VNI, which was released in June 2013, forecasts a growth rate for total consumer use of data over the five years from 2012 to 2017 of just 23 per cent. Rather than data volumes doubling every two years, now they are doubling every four years," he said.

"And even more importantly, large growths in the volume of data being carried across the internet and indeed being consumed by households are driven overwhelmingly by video consumption and it is self evident that data consumption can continue to grow without a correlated growth in line speeds."

He said that the projected broadband consumption "falls short of the very high predicted line speed requirements", and that encouraged a rethink on whether the full fibre to the premises NBN rollout is required.

"Plainly, if costly and irreversible investment decisions can be deferred until demand either materialises or can reasonably be foreseen, savings arising from the time value of money are not the only economic value generated, " he said. "There is also very real value in keeping the option open of doing something different than what might seem at a certain point in time to be the obvious answer — of responding to changing technology and changing market conditions."

Since the inception of the NBN, Turnbull said there was an "explosion" in new techniques for getting faster broadband speeds out of the copper networks through fibre to the cabinet, VDSL2, and vectoring, and the implementation of small cell wireless networks shows the need to be flexible in how broadband is delivered, he said.

"So next time you read or hear someone claim that FTTN is a 'waste' because the network will just have to be upgraded to FTTP some time later pause for a moment and consider optionality," he said. "Consider its value, and consider the vast changes we’ve seen in so many areas since 2009."

While not wanting to preempt the findings of the strategic review, Turnbull said that NBN Co will be using data obtained by the Department of Communications to determine where the NBN will be rolled out to first after the changes have been made.

"As a priority my department, with the assistance of NBN Co and private carriers, will provide the government and Parliament with a ranking of broadband quality and availability in all areas of Australia. This ranking will be published for comment and review and guide future prioritisation of the rollout."

Some documents are more secret than others

The Australian reported on Saturday that the then-Labor government was warned in 2010 by investment bank Lazard that the NBN would ultimately end up costing taxpayers AU$31 billion, Labor's former finance minister Penny Wong denied this saying that there was other advice given to the government that proved that the NBN would make a 7.1 percent return on investment.

Turnbull today called on new Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to release the Cabinet document, which Turnbull said Shorten has the power to do.

"Mr Shorten should agree that all advice given to the previous government relating to the establishment of the NBN be released. That way, the Australian people will be able to judge for themselves whether this extraordinary project, undertaken without any cost benefit analysis, was grounded in economics or politics," he said.

While Turnbull has called for Labor to be more transparent, he appeared to be in support of a Department of Communications decision to block the release of the Blue Book of departmental advice he received upon becoming the minister for communications. 

"I'm not the decision maker. That is taken by an official in the department," Turnbull said, but repeated the words of his department that the documents give the department the ability to provide full and frank advice to the incoming minister.

Editorial standards