NBN Co has set out in broad outline the principles that will guide the roll out of the National Broadband Network as it continues the shift to a 'multi-technology mix' (MTM) that has an emphasis on the use of the existing copper network for 'last mile' connections to premises.
And for fans of the fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) blueprint that guided the rollout under the previous government, the news is not good. Under the principles, which were published today, FTTP will most likely only be available in those areas where it's already been deployed, "is in advanced stages of being built" or is subject to the Fibre in New Development Policy, which covers greenfields developments with more than 100 lots.
However, the government-owned company that is rolling out the NBN indicated it was still considering a 'fibre-on-demand' offering — an option previously floated by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull — that would allow businesses or households to pay for the extension of optical fibre to their doorstep.
In addition, NBN Co's statement on its rollout principles says that it will "work with small communities that choose to co-fund FTTP if they are in an alternative technology area". An NBN Co spokesperson said that the organisation was working on guidelines for co-funding and fibre-on-demand and will publish them in the coming months.
Assuming ongoing negotiations with Telstra and Optus are successful, people in the areas currently covered by the two telcos' Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) networks will receive cable internet access. NBN Co has previously indicated it would upgrade the HFC networks in the areas they currently serve.
NBN Co's strategic review of the NBN rollout, which was released in December last year, indicated approximately 3.4 million premises could be covered by "adapting and extending existing HFC infrastructure.
In areas outside of the HFC footprints and where a rollout of FTTP has not yet begun — with the exception of those areas earmarked for fixed wireless or satellite — FTTP (and fibre-to-the-basement for apartment blocks) will be the norm.
In April, the Coalition government issued NBN Co with a statement of expectations to guide the NBN's rollout. The statement instructed NBN Co to switch from a primarilary FTTP model to an 'optimised multi-technology mix' for the network, the rollout of which would take place with a public equity capital limit of $29.5 billion.
“In order to optimise the benefits of a digital economy we must first, and foremost, address the underpenetration of broadband access as soon as possible," NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow said in a statement issued today.
"Universal access, sufficient speeds, affordability and the time to build are all key factors necessary for us to achieve these benefits and the MTM guidelines were developed with these in mind."
"The Government has asked NBN Co to determine which technologies should be utilised on an area-by-area basis so as to minimise peak funding, optimise economic returns and enhance the Company’s viability," the principles state.
"NBN Co will prioritise areas identified as poorly served to the extent commercially and operationally feasible."
Whether an area is "poorly served" will be determine based on the Department of Communications' broadband quality report released earlier this year.
NBN Co said the principles underpinning its rollout plan are:
For each service area NBN Co will consider whether:
1. Existing infrastructure can be leveraged to deliver the required bandwidth and reliability to premises;
2. Delivery partners have available construction capacity;
o Sequencing needs to be matched to construction capacity in particular areas with a preference for a contiguous work front.
3. Network complexity can be reduced by consistent use of technologies within a particular area.
4. Advances in technology may mean an alternative approach may be preferable.
NBN Co will also consider:
1. Opportunities to prioritise underserved areas;
2. Opportunities to achieve early / high revenue (e.g. from areas with a large number of business customers).
NBN Co said that it would review the pinciples "on an ongoing basis to ensure the company was making the best use of the taxpayers’ investment and identifying opportunities to incorporate technology advancements".
Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p