Utilities to meet NBN Co on future cooperation

Utility network investments centre around last-mile expansion

The Energy Networks Association (ENA) will meet with NBN Co next month to discuss potential utility access to fibre broadband connections outside power and other energy companies' own core networks, which are likely to remain private.

Tanya Barden, director of smart networks policy at ENA, said the industry representative body wanted to share requirements with NBN Co regarding network services, as it already deals with the network wholesaler for access to poles and wiring.

Getting direct access to the NBN remains a hurdle

“There isn’t a product design on the table yet for utilities on the NBN [and] we will have a forum with NBN Co in next month or so,” Barden said.

“Utilities are looking at NBN for the last mile, including sensoring and smart metering.”

The ENA is a national body representing gas and electricity distribution businesses throughout Australia. Membership is comprised of 26 electricity and gas network companies.

At a policy level, ENA is “just working through requirements” at this stage, according to Barden, but hopes to resolve issues around getting direct access to the NBN.

“If we can’t get that the economics change,” Barden said. “Utilities have had core networks for a long time. Today’s investments are extending these networks.”

Telecommunications industry analyst Paul Budde agreed open access to the NBN will be key for utilities looking to expand their networks through emerging technologies like smart grids.

“In order to use the NBN for smart grid purposes the utilities need direct access to the NBN; however, if a telecoms retail level is added to this then again we go back to the past and utilities will have to build their own NBN as it will be economically unviable to first pay the profits of a telco retail provider before they get access to the network,” Budde said.

A specific clause in the NBN Co legislation would allow utilities access to the NBN without going through a retail provider, but this has not been passed by Federal Parliament.

“Unfortunately the opposition want to see this opportunity deleted from the legislation,” Budde said. “This would be very unfortunate as that would severely undermine the NBN from being used by these other sectors.”

Budde said in the past utilities have not used Telstra’s network as it was cheaper to build their own.

“NBN Co and the utilities are discussing the technical issues and there is a good level of cooperation to work out any specifics that the utilities require for smart grids,” he said.

Update from NBN Co

A spokesperson for NBN Co told TechWorld it has developed a longer-term relationship with ENA and now meets on a monthly basis at both a steering group and working group level.

"We are working with the energy utilities on a range of issues including leveraging access to existing infrastructure to facilitate the rollout," the spokesperson said.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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