Australia dumps FTTN proposal – and starts again with FTTH

Australia dumps FTTN proposal – and starts again with FTTH

In an extraordinary announcement this morning, the Australian government have announced that they will spend up to A$43bn ($31bn, £21bn) on a new National Broadband Network, providing FTTH to 90% of Australian premises. The final 10% will be served using wireless technologies, capable of 12Mbps.

This scheme replaces the original FTTN project that the government had been developing since coming to power in late 2007. This plan, which had seen a number of bids submitted by industry, has been terminated. This was said to be partly due to the pressures brought by the global economic downturn on the value for money that Australian tax payers could achieve.

The Australian government will create a new company to carry out this project, in which it will be the majority shareholder. Private investment is anticipated. The new company will provide wholesale access (no retail services), and will be operated on a commercial basis. The government intends to sell down its stake in the company once the network has been constructed and operational for five years.

It is expected that the network will take 8 years to build and create 25,000 jobs. Some quick calculations suggest that the cost will be c£2,700 for each of Australia’s 7.8m households, although without more detail it is difficult to provide accurate costs per home passed or home connected.

Our cost modelling report suggested that providing point-to-point FTTH to 90% of UK households would cost about £21bn – about the same cost of the Australian proposal, but covering 22.5m homes, rather than Australia’s 7.7m.

This difference could be explained through the quite different geography and population density in Australia, and the fact that the network would presumably be an overlay to the existing network that didn’t make use of existing assets. However, the cost still appears on the high side.

The announcement has been welcomed by both the incumbent Telstra and its competitors. However, there are sure to be many challenging debates that will need to be held. The telecoms landscape in Australia is likely to change significantly as a result of this project and the regulatory reforms announced alongside the FTTH investment.

As before with the FTTN proposal, this is only the beginning of a process that has many hurdles to clear yet.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manager, BSG