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NBN fibre to the premises - what are the real costs and benefits?


It’s easy to forget. The rules the NBN Co are working to are determined by their master.
Perhaps it is better to question the Master’s rules and not blame the behavior of the dog?


To the extent that that is true … that is a behemoth monopoly too. :frowning:


The same may be true of their predecessors. That includes State Govt as well.

Our predominantly Urban community members have been shielded from some of the impacts of the cost of service delivery to rural and regional areas. The NBN not delivering more direct fibre perhaps another example of the same economic rationalism or opportunism.

In the past there was the PMG/Telecom and also the state owned electricity networks. The cost of connecting an urban residence to electricity, or the phone was effectively a fixed cost and the same across all customers.

For the rest away from the cities and townships proper there was a choice. If you wanted either service you paid a cost based on how far the service needed to be extended. That’s real life for a property we once owned and with the overhead power line stopped 5km down the road. If we required power we had to pay the full cost of extending the line plus the cost of the on property line and connecting transformer. If it passed any other unserved customers they could later connect for only the cost of their direct connection. Our estimated cost was nearly half the value of our property at that time.

Telstra also charged by the metre for the line from the nearest service point. Notable was the fact you paid $2.00 approx per minute for a call (because you were in a rural STD service area) to anywhere of usefulness. Urban dwellers paid a single fee in cents for each call, unlimited talk time!

For the extension of a full fibre solution it is not a surprise many of us desire to understand and know the true cost as @n3m0 has first asked! Many would based on history pay a fair portion to get an equal best service.

For the NBN it is not however a simple direct process of upfront negotiation with the provider, as per Telecom or the SEQEB (qld) etc might have done. Although the reasonableness of the charges might be comparable?

The circumstances of not everyone getting a direct fibre connection to the NBN and lack of transparency in the direct costs per premise follow a long political precedent. Notably this time NBN urban dwellers have also been divided between FTTP haves and FTTN have less.


Ahhh … cost/benefit analysis. A neoliberal favourite.
Nobody will ever need more than 25/12/5/2 Mb/s.

good broadband connectivity is fast becoming an essential piece of infrastructure – like water, transport or electricity.

Most of those in both the satellite and fixed wireless areas also have copper 'phone lines. Landlines are therefore feasible. It’s just too hard for the current mob.

Which is probably where the problem lies. Governments these days fear ongoing responsibility for infrastructure. Privatisation is the easy way out (not to mention profitable for their mates/future employers).

Might be a valid point, if we had a viable alternative. Telecommunications infrastructure is a natural monopoly. If we’re stuck with a monopoly, then experience shows that a public-sector monopoly works less-badly than a privately-owned one. Telstra being a case in point.

Nether more nor less so than overhead 'phone lines of old. Years ago I was told that, when the PMG took 'phone lines from poles to trenches, their damage bill went down by 75%. Service life of lines increased threefold. Lines just last longer underground.

Overhead fibre is an option, but an expensive, short-term one. I suspect economics will not support the overhead option; it just isn’t sufficiently more cost-effective than the shallow trenching common in the regions.


A little incorrect. FO cable is much more resilient to environmental impacts such as fire and flood. Phone lines of old require/d insulation from earthing, were/are subject to lightning strikes because of their conductive nature, in fires the insulation that was on the wires is burnt away and this leads to increased risk of shorts and earthing particularly when then wet. For the most part FO is fairly immune to these vagaries. It is also able to withstand larger pull forces that can be generated by winds, falling debris, and such.

Trenching in many ways is a preferred outcome but some river/creek areas can present concerns for erosion. In the US conduit is preferred as well but for some areas they do almost mandate aerial carriage and this is even for Dept of Transport roadside infrastructure.


For many very good reasons.


Some discussion:

(relating to power cabling)


The suggestion re overhead FO is intended as one way to come to a base case sceario. One for which it is likely a reasonable estimate of total distance can be found in the public domain.

It is a reasonable approximation of service distances. It has some basis in fact for estimating which ever method of fibre install is considered.

P.S. Overhead FO cable options.
While I do not have a preference, adding fibre to an existing network of poles is much less expensive than building a complete overhead system.

To the straight run costs of direct burried fibre there are many add on costs including survey and preclearing. Every road, stream, flood way, service crossing etc adds significant one off costs. The data I’ve seen previously, suggests the cost difference may not be significant. It depends on the design variations in each example.

Where fibre is incorporated in an overhead ground wire (OPGW) it is only the cost of the added wrapper/filler to consider. There are other options based on using standard inground FO cable with added support and one of the powered conductors.

Thanks @person, you noted the same source reference, ahead of mine.


Incorporating optical fibre into power infrastructure is popular with owners of such infrastructure. For some reason, others don’t seem as interested. The technology has been around for more than three decades, but there’s been little takeup beyond the power industry.

One complication with adding optical fibre to power infrastructure is that (in Australia, at least), the workers must be qualified to work with both power and telecommunications. Multi-skilled tradespeople are expensive.

Another complication in the regions is bushfire. Optical fibre doesn’t take kindly to being singed (though fire-rated cable is available - at a price). Then of course, when the poles burn …


The answer to that may be purely political. Telstra and now the NBN Co hold government sponsored monopolies.
Note: Optus was not backward in rolling out cable using overhead installations where it could.

That is not quite how it is done.
To keep it simple, stringing any cable is one skill set. Cable joining/splicing is a different skill set. A FO splicer does not need to be qualified or trained to stringing overhead. An overhead worker does not need to be qualified to splice FO to string coms cables. The same safe access and work procedures apply universally to all persons working around powered cables/lines. Typically the designs applied and construction deliberately separates the two services at any interface to remove any common risk.

It’s a risk that varies by region, with line design used, easement clearances and vegetation types. Professional risk assessment is applied to determine the needs of any project. Power lines are even more expensive to run than fibre and just as essential to most rural premises.

Both burried and overhead options could be used as appropriate. Not all ground is suitable for shallow direct burried cable either. Rock ahead!

For our more urban areas the SMH published a very succinct critique of the FTTP option in July 2017.

Like water off a ducks back, might sum up the NBN Co’s response. Ministerial granted waterproofing?


Perhaps, but your explanation doesn’t cover overseas cases.

According to those who do the work (in Australia), it is.

Anyway, I think I have as much information as I’m going to get. Speaking with people overseas who have gone the do-it-yourself route and others who have examined that option in Australia, it seems that fibre optic cabling, trenched with volunteer labour and donated equipment, could be run out at just over $1,000 per kilometre. Professionals would probably be more efficient. Adding their costs and accounting for efficiency, say $2,000/km (for the shallow-trenched customer access network).

If anyone has a better estimate, I’d be interested to hear it.

Now, what about the benefits?


The realities for most of us are that we need to rely on the current telecommunications providers to deliver such services.

The application of the Federal Telecommunicatins Act, state and local government planning laws, and access to public land are all relevant.

Any of us could trench and or direct burry FO cable on our own land, or string it along a fence or between poles. Perhaps for the cost of just the cable per metre? No survey, no fuel costs, no insurances or PL for the work of others? Free splicing and termination?

There are additional requirements to meet if the cable needs to be installed on public land or cross a road or any other service.

What does the ACMA as regulator require?

There is an approximate cost range to provide brown fields FTTP in regular well settled (dense) urban arears. Some where between the costs evident in NZ for similar work but much less than the old 2013 NBN Co average cost to date. Approx 100 properties per km.

There is another cost to construct long fibre runs in rural and regional areas. Approx 10 properties per km to perhaps one property every ten km.

There is a cost to DIY. With paid or with volunteer labour and donated resources. This assumes that Government, The ACMA and NBN Co,are all willing to cooperate! :wink:

It sounds like a challenging project to deliver for $1,000 per km what the NBN Co can not.

P.S. hope you succeed!

For the benefits - perhaps the references to Gigabit Cities in the following might prove useful?


I’m not suggesting that anyone here try to DIY, @mark_m. Some who had looked into that option just provided much of my information.

That’s the cost with volunteer labour and donated equipment. It’s a starting point for calculation. The final estimate is around twice that. Anybody who tries to charge more than $2,000/km is probably thieving.

The question asked is:

What somebody might try to charge is a different question altogether.

Which is addressed here:

The resources of government are not infinite. Much can be accomplished, but it takes time. Members of communities such as BIRRR have repeatedly shown a willingness to do it themselves. As one of those involved in England’s B4RN commented, basic skills for working with optical fibre are not difficult to master. The Commission should encourage and facilitate. It should not unnecessarily obstruct those who seek to help themselves, but instead assist in any way possible.

As it stands, I view our government and NBN Co as akin to the banks.

Cost, price & value

I think a FO cable to an area that has enough density of houses and then a privately owned Wifi network is probably much more doable cost wise than running FO to every property. While it won’t provide multi Gb speeds it will provide up to a Gb speed depending on the hardware used, more likely to be 400 Mbps or some lesser amount depending on how many are connecting but a much much better outcome than the Fixed Wireless offering of NBN Co and certainly satellite would be not even a consideration in this scenario. As an area became more populated or even financial the FO footprint could be increased in the area without adding large amounts of cost.

What are the benefits of FO, well I think they have been largely canvassed here previously. Multi Gb speeds in future, reduced maintenance costs, reliability over copper, FW, and Satellite, it has relatively low lag/latency, it is robust and long lived even in very harsh conditions, it is able to have long runs without need for supplementing power, it is really almost future proof without having to spend large amounts to keep upgrading.


One might ask whether if a company can do it for half the price that NBN Co are claiming, why that company isn’t over here making a killing?

Perhaps the perennially financially struggling SMH could put up its own money and save the SMH (albeit that it is now too late to do that, as compared with when that article appeared).

The summary for this thread would seem to be: it is very hard to find out the real costs and even harder to quantify the real benefits. ?


Because it is a Govt entity that is building the NBN, yes a group could come here and do it but they would be “Dark fibre” just like Telstra’s, Optus’, TPG’s and similar that eventually have to buy into the NBN to complete the Australia wide connection and thus be caught up into having to pay a premium regardless. If their business size is large enough they are also regulated to charge the same as for NBN connectivity of clients, only small scale RSPs are granted exemption from the set figures.

There is no problem quantifying the benefits of FTTP (they have all pretty much been canvassed as I noted before), there is just the difficulty of getting an opposed LNP Govt to accept the benefits and thus require a change of both their policy and who donates to them.


One local example is Smart Farm Net. Most of their problems reportedly stem from difficulties with backhaul. Getting enough at reasonable prices.

In telecommunications, we can’t escape a monopoly. It’s up to government to rigidly control that monopoly.


I was looking at the bigger picture. I understand the technological benefits, but if you had to justify it financially as an investment.


Even then yes it is able to be given a benefit gained value, just we have been so bombarded by negative publicity about fibre we as a nation see it as a cost rather than the benefit it provides. Why do big businesses insist on fibre networks if fibre was not cost effective or gives financial benefits?

To be very honest we as a nation have become so “programmed” we even see mobile networking as a better option even when in a house setting…ludicrous but still lots see it that way.


As an investment for whom? When the overland telegraph was to be duplicated, there was heated debate over whether to run another galvanised iron wire or to invest in comparatively expensive copper. Eventually, copper won out. The shorter-term thinkers were not convinced that it was a good investment.

From an infrastructure perspective, the long life and capacity of fibre make it a first-rate national investment. For an individual, the century-plus investment cycle is unrealistic.

You’ll need to be a bit more specific about what precisely you need to know.