With the apparent increased frequency of naturally disasters, communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has suggested Telstra should consider the use of fibre, rather than copper, to reconnect customers affected by Cyclone Yasi and the January floods.
While copper would give Telstra a means to more quickly reconnect affected customers, the metal was more prone to environmental degradation, Conroy said. The more robust fibre, however, would take longer to deploy but stand strongly against the elements in the long term.
“The advice I understand is that you can reconnect the copper reasonably quickly, under the current circumstances it would take time to relay the fibre so in the short term, it is probably more cost effective and quicker [to reconnect the copper] and that’s the important part getting a service back on,” Conroy said.
“If there are areas where it becomes patently clear that it’s simpler to put in fibre then I think everyone would like to, but at this stage to lay the fibre, get it connected, get the boxes on the side of the houses and all those changes you’d need to make, it will probably take longer than just a reconnection of the existing copper.”
According to Conroy, due largely to humidity, the state of the copper-based network in Queensland had been problematic for some time.
"There have been many stories for many years about plastic bags trying to keep the copper network together because it’s literally falling apart,” Conroy said. "The further north you go from Sydney the more the humidity hits and they’ve had more floods over the last few years… the actual network on copper degrades in water and as I’m sure you all know by now, fibre doesn’t.”
In addition, Conroy slammed a research report conducted by the Economic Intelligence Unit, which attacked the Australian Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) for its high cost and high level of public sector involvement.
“Unfortunately their research failed to notice that in actual fact, we’re delivering a Gigabyte [sic] network which is exactly the same speed as the South Korean network, so it’s factually wrong in its opening statement and it all goes down hill from there,” Conroy said.
“It uses a ranking system that says public investment is bad you get zero marks for public investment and you get ten out of ten for private investment, so surprisingly Australia ranked poorly in that particular criteria given that this is a public investment, it ignores the fact that it gets a commercial return, it ignores the fact that we’ll privatise it down the track.”
Conroy described the research, which noted Australia’s broadband plan will cost the taxpayer 24 times more than South Korea’s but deliver services at just one tenth the speed, as ideological dogma with serious factual errors and claims the organisation clearly did not read the NBN Co business case released in December last year.
“Trying to compare the rollout in South Korea to the rollout in Australia is just fraught with challenges and they failed most of them,” he said.
Conroy's comments follow the announcement that Telstra shareholders will vote on the $11 billion financial heads of agreement with NBN Co on 1 July.
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