Widely cited AFR article is factually incorrect

In a widely cited article first published by the Australian Financial Review’s telecommunications reporters David Ramli and James Hutchinson broke the news claiming that over 118,000 homes and business had “defective” NBN fibre connections and that it would cost “more than $100 million to fix the buildings already passed”. The story was quickly mirrored on the other Fairfax media outlets including Sydney Morning Herald with a cracker click-bait article name: “A third of NBN not working, figures reveal”.

I was quite surprised at the figure… given there are less than 100,000 premises existing homes and premises (brownfields) actually connected to the NBN. So, how could there be more defective fibre connections than there are actual activated premises?

Upon further reading, you realise that the article actually refers to the 180,000 premises with “defective fibre connections” as actually having “damaged or missing” lead in pipes to connect premises to the NBN fibre network. Oh… so “defective fibre connections” is in fact referring to premises that had pending connections due to infrastructure issues. Who would have guessed from that was what they meant by the sparing title “A third of NBN not working” and that opening paragraph’s “defective fibre connections”.

As if that wasn’t misleading enough though… on further investigation, the authors conceded that in fact the over 180,000 premises quoted were simply the NBN internal figure for Service Class 1. Far from being the figure of “defective fibre connections”, NBN Co’s own Strategic Review states that:

Service Class 1 – Includes premises which are pending i.e. waiting for NBN Co to complete connection, and also premises which have not requested NBN Co connection (NBN Strategic Review, p43)

Of course, there would be a subset of premises in Service Class 1 which are experiencing issues with the lead in conduit. It’s been an ongoing issue that NBN Co has been dealing with. Recently, the ACCC approved a “pull through” method which allowed fibre to be taken up to the premises by temporarily disconnecting the copper phone line using that as the pull cable. However, to suggest that all Service Class 1 premises are somehow “defective” and that all have “damaged or missing” lead ins is a complete false assertion.

The misleading information doesn’t stop there! The Financial Review then goes on to claim that:

“it would cost more than $100 million to fix the buildings already passed, ­including up to $40 million in extra fees to contractors”

Wait… NBN Co is spending $100 million to “fix” connections that were never connected, that were never activated and that were never defective in the first place? Perhaps the Financial Review means to say that NBN Co will be spending $100 million to “connect” these premises? So, let’s do a bit of quick maths:

$100,000,000 / 118,000 premises = ~$848 per premises for customer connect component

Now, according to NBN Co’s own strategic review — it will cost $2,100 per premises in the Revised Outlook (NBN Co Strategic Review, p61) to complete the final customer connect component of the network. That’s 60% cheaper than projected!

So, not only is the article factually incorrect, totally misleading and an example of poor research – it’s actually self-contradicting too! I truly have my head scratching for this one!

NBN Rollout Map Screenshot

NBN Co adds remediation to rollout map

In a website update late Wednesday night, NBN Co has added FSAMs (Fibre Serving Area Modules) that are undergoing Telstra remediation to their rollout map — marking them as having commenced “Build preparation”. A full list of FSAMs added to the remediation stage can be found at the end of this post.

In a typical NBN Co brownfields fibre-to-the-premies (FTTP) rollout, NBN Co releases areas for Telstra to replace pits and ducts (remediation) before sending their own construction partners into the area to build and rollout the fibre.

NBN Co has previously indicated that it was their intention to improve the rollout map to make it more relevant and accurate to end users. This addition comes after NBN Co removed around two-thirds of the areas listed as “Construction commenced” after the change in Government, replacing it instead with a build commenced metric. This new “Build preparation” provide more clarity to Australians who may have previously witnessed “NBN work” in their area yet the NBN Co rollout map had not been updated to reflect that.

NBN Co also recently changed their premises passed metric in an attempt to make it more relevant and accurate to consumers and retail service providers.

NBN Rollout Map Screenshot
NBN Rollout in the Penrith FSA, now showing 2PTH-08 in remediation

Brownfields Fibre (Remediation)

(NBS) denotes an FSAM “never before seen” on the construction maps. i.e. not part of those that were removed from the Construction Commenced map in Nov 2013.

  • (NBS) 2BLK-11 — (Marayong, Blacktown)
  • (NBS) 2WLG-07 — (North Wollongong, West Wollongong, Wollongong, Gwy)
  • (NBS) 2WLG-08 — (Wollongong)
  • (NBS) 3SHP-07 — (Mooroopna)
  • (NBS) 4APL-10 — (Taigum, Zillmere, Boondall)
  • (NBS) 4KLG-08 — (Murrumba Downs, Kallangur)
  • (NBS) 4TOB-11 — (Middle Ridge)
  • 2CAM-02 — (Canterbury, Campsie)
  • 2CBT-01 — (Campbelltown, Bradbury)
  • 2COR-05 — (Woonona, Russell Vale)
  • 2COR-06 — (Corrimal, Russell Vale, Bellambi)
  • 2COR-07 — (Tarrawanna, Corrimal)
  • 2DAP-01 — (Kembla Grange, Wongawilli, Horsley)
  • 2DAP-05 — (Marshall Mount, Penrose, Dapto)
  • 2DAP-06 — (Horsley)
  • 2LID-08 — (Auburn)
  • 2LJT-05 — (Bateau Bay)
  • 2LJT-06 — (Bateau Bay)
  • 2LJT-08 — (Long Jetty, Toowoon Bay, Blue Bay)
  • 2MAI-11 — (Raworth, Tenambit, Morpeth)
  • 2MYF-01 — (Mayfield)
  • 2NWR-02 — (Nowra)
  • 2NWR-03 — (Nowra Hill, South Nowra, West Nowra, Nowra)
  • 2PTH-08 — (Werrington Downs, Cambridge Park)
  • 2TEE-05 — (Taree)
  • 2WLG-02 — (Wollongong)
  • 2WLG-03 — (Mangerton, Mount Saint Thomas, Coniston)
  • 2WLG-04 — (West Wollongong, Mangerton)
  • 2WLG-05 — (West Wollongong, Mount Keira)
  • 3BAC-05 — (Darley)
  • 3CBN-05 — (Cranbourne)
  • 3CTN-06 — (Melbourne)
  • 3FSR-06 — (Seddon, Yarraville, Kingsville)
  • 3FSR-08 — (West Footscray, Tottenham)
  • 3KAL-01 — (Langwarrin)
  • 4AAR-02 — (Calamvale)
  • 4AAR-06 — (Calamvale, Algester)
  • 4APL-05 — (Carseldine, Bridgeman Downs)
  • 4APL-06 — (Carseldine)
  • 4APL-07 — (Fitzgibbon)
  • 4APL-08 — (Boondall)
  • 4APL-09 — (Taigum, Boondall)
  • 4BDB-03 — (New Chum, Riverview, Dinmore)
  • 4BDB-04 — (New Chum, Redbank, Collingwood Park)
  • 4CAI-06 — (Manunda, Cairns North)
  • 4GDN-07 — (Bellbird Park, Augustine Heights)
  • 4GDN-08 — (Carole Park, Ellen Grove, Gailes, Wacol, Camira)
  • 4GUL-07 — (Kirwan, Thuringowa Central, Cranbrook)
  • 4IPS-08 — (Yamanto, Churchill)
  • 4NDG-05 — (Wavell Heights, Nundah)
  • 4TNS-07 — (Hyde Park, Pimlico, Hermit Park)
  • 5MOD-05 — (Para Hills, Ingle Farm)
  • 5PRO-02 — (Prospect, Dudley Park)
  • 5PRO-04 — (Collinswood, Enfield, Nailsworth, Sefton Park, Bro)
  • 5PRO-05 — (Medindie Gardens, Nailsworth, Vale Park, Walkervil)
  • 5PRO-06 — (Medindie, Medindie Gardens, Walkerville, Gilberton)
  • 5PTE-01 — (Victor Harbor)
  • 5PTE-02 — (Hindmarsh Valley, McCracken, Hayborough)
  • 5SBY-01 — (Strathalbyn)
  • 5SFD-03 — (Old Noarlunga, Noarlunga Downs)
  • 6APP-01 — (Mount Pleasant, Applecross)
  • 6APP-03 — (Mount Pleasant, Ardross)
  • 6GLT-05 — (Spalding, Bluff Point)
  • 6PNJ-01 — (Pinjarra)
  • 6PNJ-02 — (Ravenswood)
  • 6SPT-01 — (South Perth)
  • 6SPT-04 — (South Perth, Como)
  • 6VIC-04 — (Rivervale, Burswood)
  • 7HOB-07 — (New Town, North Hobart, Mount Stuart)
  • 9QBN-04 — (Queanbeyan East, The Ridgeway, Greenleigh)
  • 9QBN-06 — (Oaks Estate, Crestwood)


Senator Conroy SSCNBN

NBN Co changes the premises passed metric

Metric is now more conservative and relevant to service providers

During a Senate Budget Estimates hearing last night, NBN Co revealed that changes were made with respect to the way “premises passed” was defined in the weekly rollout statistics. NBN spokesperson, Andrew Sholl, said off the record yesterday on Twitter that these changes started in April this year and gives a clearer and more relevant weekly figure.

Traditionally, two metrics were used by NBN Co to describe the status of construction of their network — one being Ready for Service and Premises Passed. In the previous metric of “Premises Passed”, premises were considered to be passed once network testing was completed the Local Network servicing a particular cluster of premises. However, only once 90% of the premises are passed by NBN Co’s old metric is an FSAM declared “Ready for Service” and an order may be ordered.

A recent change to the metric has altered the way NBN Co reports the “Premises Passed” metric in it’s weekly rollout statistics. Rather than accounting premises as being “passed” when testing for the Local Network is completed, NBN Co will only account those premises as being “passed” when the local network servicing 90% of the premises in that particular rollout region is built and tested.

This changed metric provides a more conservative and potentially, more relevant metric for consumers and service providers. However, it also means that NBN Co’s weekly run-rate will become more angular as premises will be added in mass, rather than the progressive additions previously seen.

Talking with service providers, it appears that premises considered passed by not yet Ready for Service under previous metrics have remained classified as “passed”. Only new premises being added to the network are affected by this change of metric.

Inside an NBN node at Umina Beach

NBN: Details of FTTN pilot emerge

Earlier today, NBN Co released the test agreement details for its Fibre to the Node pilot in Umina Beach, NSW and Epping, VIC. After initial delays with negotiation trial access to the copper with Telstra, NBN Co is set to commence the customer trials on or around 1st June 2014.

NBN Co will be conducting main deployment trials, one using a spare copper pair (known as the “Second Line Pilot”) as well as a selected “Single Line Pilot” which will use the existing copper phone line to the home. In a Single Line Pilot, traditional voice services will continue to be delivered from the exchange with the use of a combiner to “inject” VDSL signals into the existing line.

Unlike NBN Co’s FTTN discussion paper as reported by CommsDay, NBN Co will be responsible for a free installation process of both pilots where the new copper pair is terminated a new wall plate for “Second Line Pilot Premises”, or where a splitter is installed for the purposes of a “Single Line Pilot Premises”.

Similar to the FTTB trial, the Retail Service Provider or the end user will provide their own ADSL or NBN Co-approved VDSL modem to connect to the NBN Co FTTN Test Network. During NBN Co’s own shop-front tests in March, it was revealed that a Netcomm NF4V modem router was used.

NBN Co expects these trials to conclude 30th September 2014.

NBN Co willingly provides ‘inaccurate’ info to RSPs and Minister

NBN Co has gone to the extraordinary length to claim that documents provided to Retail Service Providers, a weekly briefing document to Shareholder Ministers as well as the current NBN Co rollout map displayed on the NBN Co website as being “inaccurate information”.

In a recent answer to Question on Notice for the Additional Estimates Hearing in February 2014, NBN Co revealed that because of the “inaccurate” nature of the data, they can not provide numerous documents to the Senate including the “Weekly Program Summary Report” which is produced weekly to Shareholder Ministers (Malcolm Turnbull and Mathias Cormann) as well as other documents provided to Retail Service Providers including the Monthly Ready for Service Report and a computer-readable format of the network rollout boundaries — identical to those provided on the NBN Co rollout map.

The specific question, put on notice by Senator Urquhart, asked for the release of several documents in parts a-f — most of which were made readily available on the NBN Co public website prior to the change in Government. Rather than providing the documents as requested, NBN Co simply responded that the data was in fact “inaccurate”:

[…] NBN Co is currently not posting some information to the website until such time as the company has increased confidence in some forecasts. Based on past experience, providing inaccurate information—such as continually slipping RFS dates— is frustrating to all stakeholders (including citizens).

However, Ziggy Switkowski directly contradicts the notion that the data was inaccurate at the actual hearing:

Everything that we have done upon the change of government, board and management has been in the direction of, firstly, ensuring that the information and the data we have is accurate and meaningful […]

While NBN Co is more than happy to describe this data as being accurate and meaningful to the Minister and Retail Service Providers, when asked to actually provide them to the Senate, NBN Co claims that they simply provide “inaccurate information”.

It appears that either: they have failed to inform neither the Ministers nor Retail Service Providers that in fact the data provided to them may be highly inaccurate or they have in fact lied to the Senate. This would not have been the first time when NBN Co had failed to provide meaningful data to the Senate, even though it would have been as simple as copying and pasting.

Furthermore, contrary to NBN Co’s claims, recent analysis of Ready for Service dates provided by Telstra Wholesale show that in fact, these dates are increasingly accurate.

NZ Chrous projected efficiency savings of fibre rollout

NZ aims for at least 75% FTTP, AU stuck at 26%

In a presentation to institutional investors yesterday, Chrous, the leading telecommunications company in New Zealand projected that at least 75% of premises will be connected using FTTP/B by the end of 2020 — in sharp comparison with the 26% planned for the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix National Broadband Network (MTM NBN).

In a world where the majority of the world is moving towards a full-fibre deployment to replace existing infrastructure, NBN Co and the Coalition’s policy takes the reverse approach in phasing out an FTTP rollout in favour for a inferior FTTN network topology. Under the MTM model, brownfields Fibre to the Premises rollout will stop by CY2018 with the remainder of the rollout being FTTN-only. This means that under this model as bandwidth demands grow, Australians will be provided an upgraded service without the capacity and capability of delivering the demand needed.

In the contrary however, Chrous NZ and other telcos in New Zealand will be taking the initiative of rolling out Fibre to the Premises to deliver the demands of the present and the future. As indicated by the graph on their second slide, four providers will continue to pass premises incrementally into 2020 — with Chrous leading the way with a stable forecasted rollout rate.

Chorus NZ Investor Presentation: Slide 2
Slide 2: Rollout of Fibre to the Premises continues to ramp up in NZ until 2020

Likewise, while Chrous is projecting continual efficiency savings in building a fibre network, NBN Co denied any cost saving measures can be implemented or found until 2017-18 when the rollout itself will stop. This is again, at odds with worldwide comparisons.

NZ Chrous projected efficiency savings of fibre rollout
Unlike NBN Co, Chorus seems to know how to save money… by finding efficiencies over course of the rollout

Congratulations to New Zealand for recognising that FTTP is the future. Yes, while we have to concede that a Fibre to the Node rollout will happen… the Coalition should really recognise the technological advantage of having fibre to the premises and the extreme reliability and upgradability of the technology. xDSL technologies will continue to limit Australia’s productivity into the future and will always be limited by distance.

Rather than phase out an FTTP build half-way through the NBN build, the network technology should really be ramped up as the demand grows. There is absolutely no logic in their rollout plans, at all.

New Zealand truly deserves to get a 75% FTTP deployment, what a pity no one in power sees the value of it in Australia today.

NZ Chorus FTTP vs rest of the world
While Australia lags, New Zealand will be the leader in high-speed broadband by 2020.
Infographic: Design Contracts between Sep 2013 and Mar 2014

NBN: FTTP workflow resumes in mainland states

Updated: (14/05/2014) Further clarification plus link to FOI request + Q&A section at the bottom

In response to a recent Freedom of Information request, NBN Co reveals that an additional 81 FSAMs were added to the “pipeline” between the start of September 2013 till the end of March 2014 to begin the detailed design phase of the network.

The “detailed design” phase was previously marked with “Construction Commenced” on the NBN Co map. It indicates the first contract instruction issued to NBN Co’s delivery partners to commence the detailed design and conduct network proving exercises including roping and rodding and preliminary clearing of ducts using “vac-trucks”.

These FSAMs are in addition to the areas previously classed as “Construction Commenced” on the NBN Co rollout map prior to the election and may have come from the old 1 year rollout plan.

Construction Commencement Date: The date that NBN Co expects to baseline the map contained in the Network Design Document. Construction Commenced means that NBN Co has issued contract instruction to its construction partners, so they can commence work on the detailed design, field inspections and rodding / roping activities in an area. It signals the commencement of rollout engagement with communities and councils.

All states and territories in mainland Australia receives at least one of these contract instructions, but Tasmania misses out, due to the unresolved contract disputes with Visionstream. However, it is great to see that 19 FSAMs were issued in Western Australia and South Australia each, adding to the backlog of FSAMs that never passed design phase under Syntheo’s contracts.

Following on from this detailed design phase, once the final design is approved and handed back to NBN Co, they will issue remediation notices to Telstra to fix any pits and ducts that may need to be replaced. NBN Co then issues build instructions to their delivery partners to begin network construction. It is uncertain at this stage how long NBN Co anticipates the detailed design phase will take.

The precise location of these new FSAMs is also not yet known.

Infographic: Design Contracts between Sep 2013 and Mar 2014
Infographic: Design Contracts between Sep 2013 and Mar 2014


Q: Are these FSAMs the same ones as those that were removed from the NBN Co rollout map?
A: No. These FSAMs are in addition to the “orange” shades removed after the election. It is highly probable that these areas came from the 1 year rollout map. Those areas previously shaded in orange and since removed should see build commence in due course, where NBN Co has determined it is “economically viable” to build in that area.

Q: Are these brownfields?
A: Yes, all these FSAMs are brownfields.

Q: Do we know the actual location / FSAM identifier?
A: No. That was not part of the scope of the FOI request. Requesting specific information like that would have resulted in high processing charges for the request.

Q: How long does it take for this batch of FSAM to reach build stage?
A: NBN Co has redacted average statistics for the design phase in the Strategic Review. At this point in time, this figure is uncertain.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I’ll try and answer and collate here.

Fibre pit hauling

Malcolm, FTTP was apolitical…

Despite repeated claims of by Minister of Communications, Malcolm Turnbull — the choice of the 93% Fibre to the Premises plan as chosen by the former Labor Government was not a “political” choice.

In a recent opinion piece by Minister Turnbull on ABC’s The Drum, he writes:

But it is critical to remember one very big difference between our Government and Labor’s on this matter. Labor made a thoroughly political decision to use FTTP for 93 per cent of the country – heedless of the economic consequences.

But anyone who remembers the original plan for the National Broadband Network was actually an Fibre to the Node network.

The original plan was to undergo a tender process to ask companies like Telstra, or Optus to propose a network construction. The proposal was that the Government would contribute $4.7 million dollars (by selling off the Government’s remaining Telstra shares) to the construction of the network.

Six companies submitted proposals, including six Acacia, Axia NetMedia, Optus on behalf of Terria, TransACT and the Tasmanian Government. However, the Government announced on the 6th April 2009 that they did not find any of the proposals satisfactory. “Deterioration of the economy” during the global financial crisis (GFC) was cited to be the root cause of this failed request for proposal (RFP) by then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Instead, it was announced that a Fibre to the Home (FTTH) network would be constructed by a Government-owned company, soon to be known as NBN Co.

How, I ask Malcolm Turnbull, is a failed request for proposal due to the global financial crisis a political decision? This one has seriously left my head scratching…

Inside an NBN node at Umina Beach

Anti-cherry picking limiting consumers in FTTN

Whether you like it or not, NBN Co’s business case benefits from the so called “anti-cherry picking” laws — or Telecommuncations Act 1997, Sect 141B to be exact. It basically gives monopoly provisions for NBN Co to build a “superfast carriage service” (basically an internet connection able to normally deliver 25Mbps or greater speeds) without competition from other carriers. This gives NBN Co the ability to cross-subsidise and create uniform pricing across Australia.

The fundamental problem with Section 141B in this new MTM network architecture being undertaken by the new NBN management is that consumers no longer have a choice of speeds. Australians covered by the FTTN/dp/B and HFC components of the “new” NBN network will only ever be able to get what NBN Co delivers to them.

The issue…

Just to illustrate the issue here… For argument’s sake, you’re sitting at the fringes of a copper Distribution Area (DA) and your service gets peak speeds of 25/5 Mbps thanks to NBN Co’s“innovative” Vectored VDSL2+ FTTN rollout. Now, say in 2017… the company you work for has migrated to a cloud-based computing system that would greatly benefit from having burst capacity of 100/40Mbps so the internet doesn’t congest significantly when you start working. The problem is — no other competing network builder can come along and build a faster (and cheaper, especially in metro areas) fibre network for you — no matter how much you pay. Even small businesses can not get access to alternative “superfast carriage service” other than that provided by NBN Co.

Legal definition of Superfast
Defining superfast; 25/5Mbps is legally superfast under the Telecommuncations Act 1997

It works for an FTTP-dominated network

This framework was perfect under a universal and uniform fibre service that’s able to deliver services beyond the typical needs of a 2014-household. It keeps NBN Co’s monopoly and business case for cross-subsidy… and Australian residents and small businesses need not be worried by the restrictions of law on their ability to upgrade to higher and more reliable speeds since the GPON specification is future-proof with a backward-compatible XGPON upgrade path already available.

Just not FTTN…

But clearly, this does not work in an FTTN-dominated NBN. All residential and small businesses are legislatively bound in what their internet connection speeds achieve, that is, you will get at best what NBN Co is able to provide (a best-effort 25/5Mbps service). And if you think about it in the context of 2017 and beyond, that’s not a lot.

But without the current laws, NBN Co can’t possibly have a profitable business case. Its cross-subsidy plan for the rural fixed-line, fixed wireless and satellite services would crumble.

It’s a tough gig, but a self-inflicted gig

The Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, has a tough weight to balance. With the economical viability of NBN Co to struggle with, the party ideology of a free market and a self-imposed ideology of an FTTN network — one would wonder why we didn’t just stick with FTTP…

Disclaimer: this is based on my understanding of the Telecommunications Act 1997, Section 141B. Feel free to correct me if you believe what I’m asserting is incorrect — politely of course 😉