NBN should increase FttP and FttDP connections: SA government

The South Australian government has said FttP and FttDP should be extended to more premises to avoid a long-term copper remediation cost, while satellite services should be a 'last resort'.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The National Broadband Network (NBN) company should increase the extent of its fibre network, providing as many customers as possible with fibre to the premises (FttP) and fibre to the distribution point/curb (FttDP/C), the South Australian government has said, adding that the satellite service should be a "last resort".

Speaking in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the South Australian government called FttP "superior" to all other options of connectivity and said it welcomes the addition of FttDP/C to the rollout -- but noted that these will make up only a small percentage of all connections.

"The South Australian government strongly recommends that the NBN rollout be adjusted to provide FttP or FttC connections to as many households and businesses as is practically possible," the government said in its submission.

Under NBN's current plan, 1 million premises will receive FttDP/C connections, while around 2 million will be covered by FttP -- or 8.5 percent and 17 percent of all Australian premises, respectively.

While an FttP network would cost more upfront to roll out, the state government said the "time-consuming and costly infrastructure upgrades" that will be needed across the legacy copper network due to using fibre to the node (FttN) would outweigh this expense in the long term.

"The use of FttN is likely to require upgrading in as little as five years, according to industry experts, and customers may be forced to pay for such upgrades," the government said.

"This raises equity questions due to one group of customers being required to pay for upgrades that other customers are not required to because they were fortunate to have FttP installed to their homes at no additional cost."

Under the NBN, most premises within South Australia are set to receive slower-speed FttN, hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), or fixed-wireless connections.

As a proponent of fibre broadband, the South Australian government has been undercutting the NBN by announcing in June last year that it would be setting aside more than AU$4 million in its state budget to use an existing fibre-optic network jointly owned by the state government and universities in order to provide up to 10Gbps broadband network for Adelaide businesses.

The City of Adelaide put out a call for expressions of interest in January for its Ten Gigabit City Project, calling for providers of infrastructure, connectivity, and services to make submissions in regards to the 10Gbps fibre-optic network across Adelaide.

The South Australian government added in its NBN submission that the Sky Muster satellite service should only be used "as a last resort", calling the lower-grade connectivity a form of discrimination.

"It is the South Australian government's view that residents and businesses should not be discriminated against simply by virtue of where they choose to live," the state government said.

"To maximise equity and to ensure that farmers and other regional Australians can enjoy the benefits of an NBN service that is comparable to that provided to metropolitan residents, the South Australian government requests that satellite connections only be deployed as a technology of last resort when no other fixed-line options are feasible."

In its own submission to the committee, also published this week, the NSW Farmers' Association agreed that satellite services are not equal to fixed-line connections, referring to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's comment during his tenure as shadow communications minister that NBN's two new Ka-band satellites were unnecessary "Rolls-Royce" satellites.

"Far from being a 'Rolls Royce option', Sky Muster plans are being restricted to meet the capacity in beams that have a large number of consumers in them, mostly on the eastern borders. This is restricting rural and regional farmers' access to services that they need," the NSW Farmers' Association said in its submission.

The association added that more regional and remote customers should be moved over the fixed-wireless service in order to avoid limits on speed and data; NBN's Fair Use Policy caps customers on its satellite service from using more than 150GB per month, separated into 75GB off peak between 1am and 7am and 75GB on peak, with 50GB extra for distance education students, and has a maximum download speed of 25Mbps.

By comparison, the fixed-wireless service will begin providing speeds of 100Mbps next year with no cap on data usage.

Similarly, the Queensland government's submission to the NBN joint standing committee said that the use of "lower-grade" NBN services for those living in regional and remote areas of Australia is unacceptable and inequitable; and the Northern Territory government slammed NBN's "technically inferior" satellite service.

Earlier this month, satellite RSP Clear Networks also told the NBN Joint Standing Committee during a hearing in Melbourne that NBN's satellite network should be able to handle weather conditions that lead to so-called rain fade.

"People that all of a sudden find their modem starts blinking and doesn't connect, and I know I've heard people say 'Oh, it's raining', but reality is, as satellite operators, we've dealt with rain in Far North Queensland without any issue," Clear Networks CEO Rob van der End said.

"The design of the network is such that it can cope with things like rain -- it's just possibly incidental that something like that comes up, and yes, Ka-band is more prone to issues to do with rain -- but if they have done their job right, got the right antenna size, rain should never really be an issue, or clouds, or any of that."

Van der End added that satellite RSPs are given no information on connectivity issues by NBN and are unable to assist customers who are having problems -- leaving them at the mercy of NBN's 10-day turnaround.

The Australian Capital Territory government used its own submission last month to argue that the NBN will be outdated before the rollout is complete thanks to the use of FttN.

Telecommunications providers Vodafone Australia and Macquarie Telecom also made submissions to the committee, with the former saying NBN should provide a wholesale mobile service using its fixed-wireless infrastructure in order to allow mobile carriers to expand coverage throughout regional and rural areas across the country.

NBN could alternatively share spectrum, fixed-wireless towers, equipment, and transmission and satellite backhaul with mobile carriers, Vodafone suggested. Vodafone already shares one tower with NBN's fixed-wireless service after the latter activated its first wholesale cell site in February.

Macquarie Telecom used its submission to take issue with the rollout delays and change in network technology, as well as the wholesale pricing structure, which it called a "period of market failure".

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