[LINK] Look, up in the sky! [Was: Lag will set our broadband back: expert]

David Boxall david.boxall at hunterlink.net.au
Mon Jul 6 16:24:53 AEST 2009

On Sun, 5 Jul 2009 at 18:08:01 -0700 (PDT) David Goldstein wrote:
> Given that laying cable for broadband is a key piece of infrastructure, I'd have much more confidence in the government getting it right and at least managing the project than the private sector. The private sector's track record in such issues is pretty poor.
> David

If senator Minchin is right, your confidence could be misplaced. 
Overhead cabling might have a role to play somewhere in the network. As 
far as I know, Telstra doesn't use it anywhere in the phone system and 
I've seen them apparently ploughing fibre into the ground, so I don't 
know what that role would be. Somewhere between in-ground fibre and 
wireless perhaps? Not in urban areas, surely.

What impact would overhead cabling have on:
- maintenance costs and
- the value of the network, when it's eventually sold out -err- off.

Look, up in the sky! There's an ugly downside to Labor's broadband project
Nick Minchin
July 6, 2009

The uproar sparked by the unfettered installation of unsightly aerial 
pay TV cables in the 1990s was the catalyst for the formation of lobby 
group Sydney Cables Down Under and others like it.

This group now has a new fight on its hands with the Rudd Government in 
cahoots with the Rees Government moving to override the concerns of 
residents and NSW's 152 councils to roll out aerial cables as part of 
the proposed national broadband network.

Despite planning to spend $43 billion on its half-baked "Ruddnet" plan, 
federal Labor is looking at ways to minimise time and to cut costs.

Optus estimates that if 100 per cent of the network's cables are 
deployed underground, as I am sure most taxpayers will quite reasonably 
expect, the network would cost $60 billion.

These figures give weight to the strong suspicion that the project's 
costings, which are little more than guesstimates, are based on a 
national network involving up to 70 per cent of the cables being strung 
between power poles.

Many suburban streets already have two black pay TV cables strung under 
the power lines. Under Labor's broadband plan, they are set to get a 
third. It's hardly the vision that comes to mind when Rudd spruiks the 
broadband project as this country's biggest "nation building" project. I 
am certain many people will be gobsmacked to learn that overhead cables 
are even being contemplated, let alone featuring prominently in Labor's 

This out-of-touch thinking is oblivious to the clear universal 
preference today for cables to be deployed underground. Many councils 
across the country have also moved overhead lines underground in 
response to the wishes of ratepayers.

In direct response to the pay TV cable debacle, the former Coalition 
government introduced safeguards in 1997 which require carriers to 
obtain approval from relevant state and local government planning 
authorities before being permitted to string up aerial cables.

Typically, this would see affected communities consulted and objections 
considered as part of the approval process. Now we have federal and 
state Labor governments wanting to ignore the lessons and change laws so 
proper process can be bypassed in a bid to expedite the network.

Once councils and residents across the country become aware of what is 
being proposed, this issue will rage through suburbia like a wildfire. 
It will also cause many headaches for state and federal MPs when their 
offices are bombarded with complaints from angry constituents. And quite 
rightly it will be Labor MPs who will be held directly responsible.

It has been reported that at least one cabinet colleague of the 
Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has raised alarm about the 
broadband network's aerial cable component and I suspect many Labor 
backbenchers, who have been given no say, will be anxious, if not outraged.

Putting visual amenity, heritage and environmental considerations aside, 
overhead broadband cables hung between power poles are also extremely 
vulnerable to strong winds, fires, lightning strikes, high trucks, car 
accidents and vandalism. Experts advise that even possums and birds can 
cause problems.

It will be interesting to see the response of investors, lenders and 
insurers when they learn that the most critical and sensitive component 
of the network's assets will be hanging from power poles.

While nobody doubts the importance of broadband, wherever possible 
cables should be deployed underground in existing trenches and ducts and 
in new ones. In areas where it is not practical, communities and 
councils must be fully consulted and, if opposition is overwhelming, 
other options negotiated.

If the Rudd Government, in partnership with complicit state governments, 
rides roughshod over residents and councils to install overhead cables, 
the inevitable community backlash will overwhelm any anticipated 
short-term political gain.

Senator Nick Minchin is the opposition spokesman on broadband, 
communications and the digital economy.
David Boxall                    |  Drink no longer water,
                                |  but use a little wine
http://david.boxall.name        |  for thy stomach's sake ...
                                |            King James Bible
                                |              1 Timothy 5:23

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