Why Australia’s Broadband Network is so Expensive

And will continue to be expensive.

The Australian National Broadband Network will cost us 40 billion dollars or more.  Here is one of the reasons why it will continue costing us even more tens of billions, way into the future.

I came across a technician installing a household connection to our fabled National Broadband Network today.  Here’s a photo of his work site.


The technician has to tape up his sleeves and trousers and wear gloves and a face mask because a few of these Telstra cable pits contained asbestos, but no accurate records exist to tell which ones are affected.

Notice how he has first had to excavate sand from around all the cabling under the concrete slab set into the foot path outside the home.  There is supposed to be concrete shell to keep most of the sand from the fibre and cables, but obviously the inspection procedure was weak and many pits have no protective shells.  Even where the shells were installed, sand pours in through holes with rain water.

Some of the existing cables had been laid at ground level, just beneath the slab, so he nearly cut them as he was digging the sand away to expose the Foxtel fibre laid in a rush 20 years ago.  The coaxial cable connections to the small fibre connection box have partly corroded.  “They won’t last much longer, but that’s all we have to work with,” the technician told me.  “This one’s in pretty good condition: you should see some of the ones we have to work on.”

With a bit of forethought, we could have installed a plastic underground tunnel along every street, maybe 50 mm in diameter, with tough and sand-proof junction boxes for the interconnections.  Then the fibre and cable fittings would have been protected from sand, moisture and corrosion and perhaps have lasted for a century or more.  Much easier and quicker for technicians to work with.

More rigorous inspection would have picked up lazy contractors who did not bother to bury cables at the correct depth to protect them from damage.

More costly to begin with, but then as a nation, we don’t think far ahead, do we?

Unfortunately, we don’t educate our engineers about the importance of inspection and monitoring of contractors who have an interest in minimizing their work, especially when it is conveniently buried underground.

So, if you are thinking about complaining about Australia’s high telecommunication costs, you can attribute this to a combination of short term thinking, obvious gaps in engineering education, and our liking for low density urban sprawl.  We have far fewer customers per square kilometre, longer fibres and cables, and so many more phone towers per 10,000 people.

At least there will be plenty of technician jobs for decades to come.

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