NBN Co fibre-on-demand product launches

Australians wanting the lifestyle choice of fibre to the premises must soon pay NBN Co for the privilege.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australians seeking to have NBN Co roll out fibre to their premises must first pay an application fee before it will consider taking up the challenge.

The shift to the so-called multi-technology mix model of the National Broadband Network (NBN) means most premises that were slated to get fibre to the premises under the former Labor government's model will now be connected via fibre to the node, fibre to the basement, or hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC).

For those who still wish to get the full fibre connection, NBN Co has been developing a fibre-on-demand product launched on Friday as Technology Choice.

ZDNet first reported last week that the product was due this month.

NBN Co's chief customer officer John Simon told ZDNet that there will be two products: An Area Switch, and an Individual Switch.

"It enables an individual or a consortium of individuals ... even councils to make that choice, and they would contribute to the incremental upgrade," he said.

The costs will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, but Simon flagged that the average cost for the fibre-to-the-premises rollout had been determined to be over AU$4,300 per premises.

The fee will be determined based on what the additional cost would be to roll out fibre to the premises over the cost to roll out NBN Co's preferred technology choice.

"The cost to change technology infrastructure for Area Switch could range from tens of thousands of dollars to few millions of dollars and for Individual Premises Switch from few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars where the cost is generally dependent upon size and complexity of the project," NBN Co said in documentation.

"As various factors will impact on the final cost to move to the alternate technology, NBN Co will assess every application individually so that these various factors can be taken into account, and so that it can provide applicants with a high-level cost estimate."

Individuals may face higher fees if, for example, they are the only premises in an area requesting full fibre to the premises. In that instance, Simon said that people may wish to seek to get neighbours to band together, or the local council to join in to fund an Area Switch.

An Area Switch will cover between 150 and 350 premises or a whole apartment block, but cannot be used to attempt to bring forward the proposed rollout schedule to that location.

From Friday, people can begin to apply for the area switch, but the individual switch will wait until NBN Co begins commercial rollouts of fibre to the node and HFC. NBN Co's Technology Choice documentation flags that an HFC Individual Switch is undergoing further investigation.

Simon said he doesn't believe that many in HFC areas would want to upgrade.

"I doubt we're going to want to see people upgrade to FttP, because we're already seeing 300Mbps [download speeds] and above," he said.

NBN Co on Thursday night also announced plans to move to DOCSIS3.1 in 2017, which will offer faster speeds on the HFC network.

Simon said retailers would also be approached to see if there are some packages they want to develop to subsidise the cost of the upgrade on behalf of their customers.

"We're also consulting with RSPs [retail service providers] to see what role they want to play in an individual switch environment," Simon said.

NBN Co will charge individual applicants AU$300 excluding GST, to review their request, while area applicants will be charged AU$1,000. There is an additional AU$300 (ex GST) fee to receive the proposed costing of the fibre extention. The fees are refunded if the extension goes ahead.

Simon said that this program will replace NBN Co's fibre extension program developed under the former government to extend the fibre network out to areas covered by the fixed-wireless and satellite components of the network.

The reason why the company has put a fee on the application is that under the extension program, NBN Co received "hundreds" of requests for extension, but less than five in total had been willing to pay for the extension.

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