Monday, June 22, 2015

Will aerial cable rules plague the NBN?

The proposal announced last week to amend the Low Impact Facilities Determination (the LIFD) to increase the size of cable used for aerial telecommunications deployment raises the question of whether the NBN will face a new round of controversy.

People of a certain age will recall the public consternation that followed the deployment of the Optus and Telstra HFC networks. This consternation received a bit of a public revival when NBN Co first advised that it might include an aerial component in its rollout. (An example including a summary of the history is provided in this Senate committee submission by Ross Kelso and Peter Downey). See also this story about Haberfield.

Dr Kelso says of himself that he "successfully lobbied on behalf of local government for major changes to the Telecommunications Act and associated Codes for reduction of carrier powers and immunities." Dr Kelso also refers to a report for the Department "Putting cables underground : report of the review of options for placing facilities underground, as required under clause 49 of schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 / Putting Cables Underground Working Group" which unfortunately doesn't seem to have been captured in the appropriate archiving of the Department website.

Those earlier concerns about NBN aerial deployment were assuaged by the agreements with Telstra and Optus. The Telstra agreement provided access to Telstra infrastructure and reduced the potential use of aerial deployment. More importantly the agreement with Optus saw one of the two HFC networks being completely retired - which would have included its removal. So Labor's NBN was going to reduce the amount of aerial infrastructure over all.

The decision to retain BOTH HFC networks under the MTM deployment already means that there was to be no improvement. The proposal introduced last week means it will get worse.

The consultation paper outlines exactly how it is that the MTM has introduced this problem:

In limited circumstances, such as when NBN Co adds an extra cable to an existing 42mm bundle, the diameter of the HFC cable bundle will be 48mm. Typically, HFC cable bundles will be much smaller than this. In addition, NBN Co has advised that in very limited circumstances, individual copper cables of up to 40mm in diameter will need to be used to augment the copper network for FTTN. Further guidance on the limited use of such cabling will be provided in the Explanatory Statement to the amending Determination and other documents as required.

The question is how much attention will be paid to the issue BEFORE the LIFD is amended, or how much it will simply be after the infrastructure is augmented.

Certainly one politician has previously sought to make the greater use of aerial infrastructure for communications an issue - that is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher. The video below is from his original by-election campaign in Bradfield.

But Mr Fletcher came to this late.

When the Optus cable was being deployed the Member for Warringah was highly vocal on the topic.
Here are some excerpts.

Grievance Debate (“Information Superhighway” ) 18 September 1995

I have to say that I am not against pay TV. I just think that pay TV, if delivered by cable, should be delivered by cable underground. It should be delivered by cables which enhance our life and do not detract from our life. We have more than enough clutter overhead. We have more than enough space junk in our cities already; we do not need any more to deliver us pay TV via cable.
This is an absolute outrage. It shows that this system of rules that the government has in place is completely meaningless. It shows that Austel is a watchdog which does not even bark let alone bite. It shows the need for the government to get serious about telecommunications regulations straight away.

Statements by Members, 6 March 1995

I support the introduction of pay TV but not at the expense of the local environment. Telecommunication companies now propose to deliver pay TV by cables draped from existing power poles: that is, cables of the diameter of a one-dollar coin draped from pole to pole with a signal amplifier the size of a briefcase suspended from the wire every 200 metres. Maybe some communities will be prepared to accept overhead cabling even more cluttered and ugly than it is at present, but I suspect that the vast majority would object to having the information superhighway dangling overhead right outside their front doors.

Adjournment 27 November 1995

I am not here to apportion blame; I am here to appeal for reason. Telstra say they cannot give Optus access to their wires at anything other than what Optus think is an extortionate cost. Optus say that they cannot afford to go underground. Sydney Electricity say they cannot put all their wires underground because the profits have to be high and the prices have to be low. If that is economic rationalism, it does not make much sense to me. 

I call for a local summit of Sydney Electricity, Optus and Telstra, in my electorate, to try to ensure that 21st century technology is not delivered by 19th century means.

The Member for Warringah kept at it when the Coalition formed Government in 1996.

Second Reading Appropriation Bill no.1 10 October 1996

Earlier this week in my electorate corporate rights and environmental concerns came into head-on collision. Optus commenced its cable rollout in the municipality of Manly and many of my constituents feel that they are now threatened with a form of technological home invasion. The reason for this is the former government's telecommunications regime, which put telecommunications carriers in effect above the law. You and I cannot put a flagpole in our backyard without getting council permission first, yet these carriers can do virtually what they like. They can put a 30-metre-high phone tower virtually wherever they want.

I commend the new Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, for his draft telecommunications national code, which gives councils significantly more say over infrastructure. . ...
It is very important that we have a national plan to ensure that, sooner or later, all the overhead infrastructure goes underground. ...

It is my understanding that the minister is looking into the possibility of a national burial fund for overhead infrastructure and that he is considering bringing the various parties to this issue together to see whether a sensible compromise can be hammered out. I strongly support those efforts and they cannot happen a moment too soon for the people in my electorate.

I wonder what position Mr Fletcher and Mr Abbott will take on the proposed amendment to the LIFD!

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