The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has backed a proposal to develop Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) via the installation of cables on existing power poles instead of underground trenches.
The ETU has urged Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to give full consideration to the use of overhead deployment for the rollout of the remainder of the NBN in order to both cut down on costs and provide higher quality Internet connections.
David Mier, the ETU's NBN construction coordinator, said in an official statement that by making use of existing power poles for cable installation, it would be possible to achieve the original fibre-to-the-premises solution envisaged by the preceding Labor government, instead of the fibre-to-the-node plan favoured by the Liberal government on cost grounds.
Mier said trials in South Australia and Tasmania have already shown the overhead deployment solution to be viable and called on the Communications Minister to include the option in the current strategic review of the NBN.
"This is a technique that has been tried and tested at Willunga (in South Australia), where almost a thousand homes were connected on time, under budget, and without some of the safety issues that have plagued the roll out elsewhere," he said.
Criticism of the Liberal Party's fibre-to-the-node solution has focused primarily on potential supply inequalities and its inadequacies relative to a fibre-to-the-premises fit out.
Mier said, however, that another key disadvantage of the use of Telstra's copper network under the Liberal Party's fibre-to-the-node plan is the potential for signal interruptions which can compromise Internet connections.
"There are about a million things which can interrupt the high frequency of copper wiring," he said. "Electrical fences, garage doors, lift doors and even washing machines in the household."
"That's why you need fibre-to-the-premise all the way."
Mier added that the use of existing infrastructure in the form of power poles would cut down considerably on costs, which means more money for fibre-to-the-premise connections.
"Turnbull will be saving money, and that money could be used to fund fibre-to-the-premises, instead of just to the node."
The show of support by the ETU for overhead deployment comes just days after Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings announced that she had pitched an overhead plan to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who both indicated they were "open to receiving a proposal."
Tasmania already has significant experience in the use of existing power poles for the connection of homes and businesses to the NBN.
The overhead method was initially used in trials for the construction of the NBN under Giddings' predecessor, David Bartlett, while of the 32,000 premises which have already been connected to the NBN over half have been reached using the power polls of state utility Aurora Energy.