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Junior telcos tie knot in NBN Co copper plan

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Another day, another stick in the spokes: the Competitive Carriers Coalition (CCC) has taken exception to reports that NBN Co isn't interested in owning Telstra's copper network under the government's fibre-to-the-node network rollout.

The CCC's announcement will further complicate what's looking like a Gordian knot made of copper cables that almost nobody wants. Telstra is quite fond of the contract it signed with the former government and NBN Co to retire the copper for a fee; the minister believes that should mean Telstra would be willing to renegotiate its contract, even though there's no public evidence that's the case.

NBN Co doesn't want the copper, partly because it doesn't want to forever carry the can for every Speedtest.net result that gets posted on the Internet to complain about poor performance, and partly because it doesn't want the cost of maintenance to suck a billion-dollar hole in its budget.

Trying to work its way through the puzzle set by the government, the Australian Financial Review reported that NBN Co told the incoming government it would be better to rent the copper than to take ownership of it.

The CCC – which represents names like iiNet, Macquarie Telecom and Vodafone – has now said that any arrangement that made NBN Co a reseller of Telstra copper would be a disaster.

The proposal from NBN Co would, The Register notes, create a recursive stacking of responsibilities:

  • NBN Co rents space in Telstra exchanges to host equipment so it can run fibre to around 60,000 nodes to replace Telstra copper.
  • NBN Co then hires Telstra's copper from nodes to homes as a managed service, to carry the services it builds as nodes.
  • NBN Co uses that rented copper to become the national wholesaler of services which it sells to retailers – including Telstra.

The CCC is objecting to this model on the grounds that it undermines the structural separation of the telecommunications market that was a major part of the original NBN plan.

Its statement says “It is also highly alarming that the previous NBN CO management would disregard the bi-partisan commitment to Structural Separation and most recently affirmed by Minister Turnbull at a recent industry NBN event.”

“The costs associated with the maintenance and operation of the copper need to be assumed by NBN Co and should be reflected in the price, not flick passed at the expense of genuine reform,” it continues.

The news comes days after new NBN Co chairman and interim CEO told a Senate Estimates committee that the slower FTTN network would bring in less revenue, and that the 2016 deadline set by the Abbott government is “very demanding”. ®

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