The use of copper and cable instead of fibre in NBN connections is causing rising tensions across Australia.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on October 23, 2017

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the National Broadband Network roll-out in Parliament this morning, but at the same time blamed previous Labor governments for a growing frustration around the country.

This comes in the wake of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman revealing an almost 160% increase in NBN complaints over the past financial year.

The ABC reports that its Four Corners program “will hear from customers across Australia who remain unhappy with their internet speeds and connections” when it airs tonight.

One of the major sticking points is that only one in five Australians are receiving high-speed fibre connection. The majority are being asked to put up with the older technology of copper phone wire and pay-TV cables, which rob households and businesses of the high speeds they are paying for.

Four Corners case study

Dubbo resident David Hayward is an example of the latter. He tells Four Corners, he is forking out for the best available download speeds of 100 megabits per second, thinking he was equipped to do so with a full-fibre connection. Instead, he found out his connection is fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) with copper wire, and his download speed peaks at just 46 megabits per second.

With other Dubbo households boasting full-fibre, he is rightfully concerned that the value of his property will be affected by the connection.

“If I then go to sell this house and other parts have better, am I going to be disadvantaged financially because people are used to that, are they going to want to go backwards? I wouldn’t want to go backwards.”

Dubbo real estate agent Richard Tegart added NBN connections are already a selling point.

“A very common question now is, ‘is NBN connected?” and the next question they ask [is], ‘is it connected fibre to the premises or is it fibre to the node?’,” he said.

“It’s interesting that most consumers or buyers are certainly aware of what they want with internet connections.”

Copper cost-cutting

The PM and NBN chief Bill Morrow have also admitted the network is flawed economically.

Mr Morrow has called for a levy for mobile broadband users because without it the company may never make a profit given competition, expensive fit-outs, and rapidly changing technology.

PM Turnbull agrees there is “a reasonable question mark over” whether the company will ever make a profit. However, the former minister responsible for the NBN, points to a “very, very bad hand of cards [dealt] by Labor”.

“It was a mistake to go about it the way they did. Setting up a new government company to do it was a big mistake,” Turnbull said.

“At the moment it is estimated to deliver a return of around 3% – it is enough to keep it on the government’s balance sheet, as a government asset, but it certainly isn’t a commercial return that the stock market would expect.”

Hence why copper is being widely used in place of fibre.

“Fibre medium is better than copper medium,” Mr Morrow said. “You can’t argue any other way, but do we need that fibre today?

“We know it costs more. Is it worth it to us to spend that money when we don’t really need it, and copper would suffice?

“I think this is the policy that we’re operating under today that proves that — based on what consumers are expecting — copper is sufficient.”

It speeds up the roll-out

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield defended the “multi-technology” NBN, saying it is speeding up the roll-out and reducing the overall costs.

“Well, I think it’s important to recognise that the guts of the NBN is fibre,” he said.”The NBN is a fibre-based network.

“We are, for the last component in the street, in some cases using copper…in some cases using the existing HFC pay TV cable.

“The reason we’re doing that is because that really speeds up the rollout of the NBN; it really reduces the costs of the rollout of the NBN, so the guts of this is fibre and Australians will get fast speeds.”