NBN to possibly purchase existing dark fibre for enterprise connections

Government-owned broadband wholesaler opens consultation to use dark fibre for enterprise connections.

In the face of mounting criticism towards the National Broadband Network (NBN) for overbuilding existing enterprise networks, the government-owned broadband wholesaler has released a consultation paper to discuss how it could procure dark fibre for customers served by existing networks.

"As has been noted by a number of network operators and industry commentators, in certain circumstances the goal of encouraging economically efficient use of, and economically efficient investment in, telecommunications infrastructure may be better served by NBN leveraging existing fibre network infrastructure where the current owner is willing to sell access to that fibre, and it meets NBN's operational and commercial requirements," said the discussion paper released on Tuesday.

"Accordingly, NBN is interested in establishing an industry-wide process for procuring from third party fibre network operators dark fibre connectivity services that meet NBN's requirements in order to facilitate the efficient supply of NBN's suite of wholesale [and] layer 2 services to business customers (including but not limited to the NBN Ethernet TC2 service and NBN Enterprise Ethernet service)."

NBN currently makes use of managed backhaul services, as well as dark fibre from third parties to serve around 700 multi-dwelling units (MDU) around the country. When NBN identifies an MDU, it currently asks a panel of providers for a quote, but this process would be unable to scale, NBN said.

The broadband wholesaler said it currently upgrades a connection by installing new fibre, regardless of whether it is already served by another network.

"Initially, NBN's approach to connecting business customers to the NBN network relied heavily on a mix of copper-based technologies, such as FttN, FttB and FttC," it said.

"However, with bandwidth needs continually growing, increasing numbers of larger organisations now require dedicated high-speed, business grade, symmetrical services that can only be delivered over fibre infrastructure."

The process proposed by NBN would entail acquiring dark fibre which would be for expanding its current process, or using a reverse auction to allow providers to bid on supplying connectivity.

See also: Snake and ladders as Australian broadband realigns towards NBN

The discussion paper also asks industry if there are any concerns about ring fencing confidential and commercially sensitive information.

"Noting that NBN may be a competitor (or potential competitor) to the network operators which may wish to participate in the procurement process, it is appropriate that NBN and all other participating network operators establish appropriate information security protocols for ring fencing of confidential and commercially sensitive information, including a commitment to periodically review the effectiveness of those protocols and to remedy any systematic failures," the paper said.

"For clarity, these protocols would apply equally to NBN in order to protect the confidentiality of sensitive information provided by participating network operators, to NBN."

Industry parties will have until February 24 to respond.

Responding to the paper, Vocus CEO Kevin Russell said it was critical for long-term health of the industry to have an environment to support investment in private infrastructure.

"It is encouraging to see that NBN is listening to industry's concerns, and Vocus looks forward to engaging in this consultation process," he said.

"While this is a positive step, it does not address the core issue that NBN is operating outside its wholesale-only mandate by engaging directly with end-users."

Vocus has been a vocal critic of NBN moving beyond its remit to target end-users.

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