[LINK] The Environmental Origins of the NBN

Tom Koltai tomk at unwired.com.au
Sun Nov 13 11:12:20 AEDT 2011


Whilst I was looking for reference material to answer Marty's question
re duplication of cable TV infrastructure, I came across this little gem
from 1999. Should overhead cables be permitted or not, and other items
worthy of consideration...

I have pared the following down considerably from it's original. (This
represents approx 10% of the original Document.)

Well worth a read. Especially about the one countrywide network ...


Telecommunications infrastructure - mobile phone towers and heavy
overhead cables - have spread rapidly across densely populated urban
areas since 1994. Under exemptions granted to carriers, State, Territory
and local governments have limited powers to curb the activities of
carriers anxious to grab market share at the expense of the environment.
Consumers have voiced their concerns about the cost implications of
unnecessary infrastructure duplication. Residents have raised concerns
about the health implications of electromagnetic radiation and the
visual impacts of aerial cabling and mobile telephone towers. The
Committee is concerned that appropriate environment and planning
regulations are liable to be traded off by the Government in pursuit of
a higher sale price for Telstra.

RECOMMENDATION 25: The Committee recommends AUSTEL, and its successor,
the Australian Communications Authority, be given additional arbitration
powers and take a more proactive role in monitoring the effects of cable

RECOMMENDATION 26: The Committee recommends the new Telecommunications
National Code be established as soon as possible, based on the principle
recommended by this Committee, that carriers will no longer be exempt
from State, Territory and local government legislation.


7.34 A number of local councils in Victoria and New South Wales have
challenged carriers' rights and have begun or have legal action pending.
Local councils from Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and
Queensland have suggested to Telstra and Optus a moratorium on overhead
cabling. [19] In relation to aerial cabling, the City of Port Phillip's
submission expressed a commonly-held view:

      Aerial cabling is a negative contributor to urban streetscapes and
landscapes. [20]

7.35 The Committee is particularly concerned that Telstra is following
Optus and rolling out overhead cables in many areas. For example, it has
been reported that Telstra plans to rollout overhead cables across 90
per cent of the City of Moreland in Victoria, instead of using
underground ducts which are available. [21] The Committee considers that
the Government must act quickly to prevent this occurring.

7.36 The Committee holds the view such public outrage cannot be ignored,
and that carrier immunities should be removed as soon as possible. 

RECOMMENDATION 27: The Committee recommends Part 7 of the
Telecommunications Act be amended as soon as possible to remove
carriers' exemptions from State, Territory and local government
environment and planning laws.

RECOMMENDATION 28: The Committee recommends, as part of the new
Telecommunications National Code, under which carriers are no longer
granted exemptions, carriers be required to provide local councils with
earlier advice on rollout timetables, to provide sufficient detail of
programs to allow proper assessment of impacts, coordination of works
and community consultation.
Community opposition to aerial cabling

7.37 This section sets out some witnesses' specific comments about
aerial cabling. The Committee considered it important to draw attention
to each of these comments in order to show the depth of community
feeling about the issue. The Australian Local Government Association
(ALGA) commented:

      Firstly, [the legislation] has failed to foresee the possibility
of overhead cabling being used. It was assumed that Australia would
follow the European model of underground cabling . Secondly, the
carriers have been given a blanket exemption for normal state and local
government planning controls. [22]

The ALGA submission referred to their members' concerns about exemptions
and aerial cabling:

      The result of the exemptions for telecommunications carriers from
State and Local Government regulations has resulted in competition on
the basis of infrastructure rather than service delivery. The aerial
cabling is being imposed on and opposed by the community, is causing
significant environmental degradation, impacting on urban design, is
uncoordinated, duplicated and presents a health hazard. [23]

7.38 ALGA, reflecting the views of the Council of Australian Governments
(COAG) in its belief that the processes involved in the development and
management of infrastructure should be transparent, complained that
consultation processes have been lacking in many instances:

      This by-passing of established and accepted processes has
engendered a level of frustration and sense of powerlessness in the
community which should concern the three spheres of government and the
telecommunications industry itself. [24]

7.39 The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), the peak body for
Victorian local government, represents a population of some 4.1 million
and has been a significant contributor to telecommunications policy over
a number of years. The MAV argued that carriers have concentrated on
aerial cabling (duplicating existing infrastructure) in areas of
greatest economic return, i.e, in highly populated urban areas, at the
expense of rural and low income communities. [25] Urban and rural
communities are both losing out. Urban communities are having
streetscapes despoiled through the reckless provision of unnecessary
duplicated infrastructure, while rural communities are anxiously
awaiting the provision of modern telecommunications infrastructure.

7.40 The Brisbane City Council opposed any exemption allowing carriers
to deploy overhead cabling which, in their opinion, had 'adverse effects
without regard to the views held by a large proportion of the community
and residents of Brisbane'. [26] In the Council's view, exemptions and
the 'inadequate provisions of the Telecommunications National Code
permitted carriers to pay mere lip service to the requirement for
consultation.' [27]

7.41 The Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA), which
represents all South Australian Councils, indicated that concern was so
strong about carrier immunities under the Telecommunications Act, that a
group of councils, including two metropolitan Adelaide councils, sought
to take the matter to the High Court of Australia. Support for this
action was widespread and 23 metropolitan councils had agreed to share
the costs of legal actions involved in bringing to public attention the
shortcomings of the current legislative framework. [28] This kind of
co-operation is indicative of community feelings in South Australia.

7.42 Community antipathy towards aerial cabling in South Australia has
been exacerbated by carriers' attaching aerial cables to stobie poles
[concrete electrical poles] in Adelaide suburbs. The Committee noted
from submissions and from the South Australian Government, that carriers
were permitted to attach aerial cables to the electricity authority's
poles and had made payments to the government for this facility.

7.43 The South Australian Government confirmed that carriers had been
allowed to roll out overhead cables using ETSA Corporation's poles
because carriers were exempt from local planning laws. Questioned
further by the Committee, the South Australian Government confirmed that
a payment up front of approximately $2 million was made to ETSA, even
though carriers had the right to use the poles with payment of annual
rental. The Committee suggested that the payment was made as an
encouragement. The South Australian Government said that its permission
for aerial cabling had been made:

      . in recognising that, there is an opportunity through that to use
the funding from the payments made by carriers to promote further
undergrounding of cables, and in that way, to pursue the government's
objectives. [29]

7.44 The Local Government and Shires' Association of NSW response to the
issue of immunities and aerial cabling was also vehement. The
Association noted:

      There has been a massive groundswell of public opposition to the
exemptions and powers provided to telecommunications carriers under the
Telecommunication Act 1991, and the inadequate planning processes
implemented under the Telecommunications National Code 1994. This has
been most strongly expressed at the local level, where the environmental
impact of facilities is felt, and thus most strongly vocalised through
Local Government. Recently, there has been a particularly strong outcry
against the impact of aerial cabling, principally due to the severe
impact it has on local streetscapes and the widespread belief that
duplication is unnecessary to facilitate competition in the
telecommunications industry. [30]

7.45 The City of Boroondara's (Victoria) submission provides ample
photographic evidence of cabling activities and visual pollution in the
city environs. [31] The City served an interlocutory injunction on Optus
Networks Pty. Ltd restraining Optus from carrying out works in the
municipality of Boroondara pending the trial and determination of
proceedings. [32]

7.46 The City of Boroondara, together with the cities of Bayside,
Frankston, Stonnington, Yarra, Mooney Valley, Manningham, Mitcham (SA)
and Burnside (SA), combined to challenge the constitutional validity of
the Telecommunications Act 1991, in relation to carriers' exemptions
from local and State planning laws in the High Court of Australia. [33]

7.47 In New South Wales, four local councils mounted legal challenges
against Optus Networks Pty Ltd in April 1996. Concord, Manly, Woollahra
and North Sydney Councils sought declaratory and injunctive relief in
respect of the deployment of above ground cabling in their respective
areas. [34]

7.48 In the Concord Council's legal challenge to Optus's aerial cabling,
Optus made it clear that it would not abandon aerial cabling unless
directed to by the regulatory authority, AUSTEL. [35] The Council
subsequently complained to AUSTEL, who ruled that Optus had met its
obligations under the Code by approaching Concord Council with its
plans. Aerial cabling recommenced in Concord against that Council's

7.49 Judge Dunford of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, was critical
of AUSTEL's interpretations of the provisions of the Code. He observed
that the appeal procedures were not clear and enforcement of AUSTEL's
directions involved commencement of fresh proceedings in the Federal
Court, not by the original complainant, but by the Minister or AUSTEL.

7.50 These examples of widespread legal challenges which have been
taking place around the country by local authorities, and the comments
made in their submissions, illustrate the strength of community
opposition to aerial cabling.

7.51 The question of who should bear the cost of undergrounding cables
was also raised in submissions and in evidence given at hearings. ALGA
argued that the cost of undergrounding should not be borne by
ratepayers. Instead, carriers should pay for undergrounding as the costs
can be recouped from users of services now and in the future. ALGA made
the important point that 'ratepayers already pay for the undergrounding
of Telstra infrastructure through their taxes and therefore should not
have to pay again'. [37]

7.52 The Committee suggests that amendments to Part 7 of the
Telecommunications Act should be drafted to make it explicit that State
and local governments can require telecommunications carriers and
electricity authorities to share a common trench, within a reasonable
period of time, the costs of undergrounding to be shared between the
carriers and electricity authorities. The arrangements should provide

      (a) the costs of providing the trench to be shared equally between
all parties;

      (b) the costs of providing a common communications duct to be
shared between the communications carriers; and

      (c) the costs of providing special insulation, for example, for
electricity cables, or any other additional costs of undergrounding
peculiar to a particular carrier or authority, to be borne by that
carrier or authority.


Duplication of infrastructure

7.53 Community dissatisfaction with the visual effects of aerial cabling
and mobile telephone towers has tended to focus the debate on the
complex argument about carriers' exempt activities. Communities also
submitted that the costs of duplication of infrastructure would
ultimately be borne by consumers.

7.54 Waste and inefficient use of resources, in face of the need to
extend resources beyond urban areas to regional and less densely
populated areas, is an important issue which was raised by ALGA:

      Duplication of infrastructure, be it overhead or underground
cabling or mobile phone towers, at the moment doubles the cost of
installation and maintenance of the infrastructure. The national
resources wasted by duplication could be much more effectively used for
the installation of state-of-the-art technology, such as fibre optics
(rather than out-dated coaxial cables) and for providing technology to
residents outside of capital cities. The cost of duplication will also,
inevitably be passed on to consumers as carriers recover their cost
through the pricing of their services. As the majority of the cable is
also imported, it impacts on Australia's balance of trade. [38]

7.55 The view of ALGA was echoed by many other groups. Addressing the
financial implications of the duplication of infrastructure, the
Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) stated:

      The duplication of infrastructure, be it overhead or underground,
doubles the cost of installation and maintenance of the Australian
telecommunications infrastructure. This is a waste of national resources
which . could be put to better use in advancing the technology of
communications products and services. [39]

7.56 Many groups have argued that it would be preferable if a single
cable was shared by carriers. Technical advice was received by ALGA
which indicated that this was technically feasible and that Telstra had
already done the necessary design work. [40]

7.57 The Committee was encouraged to see that the Government is
seemingly beginning to take such recommendations seriously. Since this
inquiry opened, it has been reported that the Minister for
Communications and the Arts has asked Telstra and Optus to consider
combining cable rollouts to overcome the problems of duplicating
infrastructure. [41]

7.58 Dr Mark Sceats, Chief Executive Officer Australian Photonics
Cooperative Research Centre, stated in his submission that that the
hybrid optical fibre-coaxial (HFC) which both Telstra and Optus are
rolling out will be substantially obsolete possibly within the next 5-10
years. The reason is that HFC networks have broadband capacity in only
one direction. Should the demand for broadband interactive services grow
the network would have to be upgraded. Such a network would be based on
optical fibre deployed underground. The coaxial cable currently being
strung on power poles will then be obsolete. [42] It should be made
mandatory that obsolete infrastructure has to be removed at the cost of
the carrier who installed it. 

RECOMMENDATION 29: The Committee recommends it be made mandatory that
the removal of obsolete cabling be at the cost of the installing

7.59 Australian Photonics' submission pointed out that it has taken one
hundred years to deploy the existing copper network, and Australia now
faces a scenario that the new $8 billion duplicate HFC networks would
both be obsolete within a decade. The submission went on to point out
that a single optical fibre cable was all that consumers required. For
example, the competition between Telstra and Optus was based on the
limited number of cable TV channels that could be deployed on the HFC
network. But one optical fibre cable could deliver all these channels
(and many more) with very low marginal costs. The same principle applied
to other services such as home shopping:

   One optical fibre (FTTC) network will have the capacity to deliver to
the consumer all conceivable point to point communications services.

7.60 The Committee considers that the Government should urgently take
action to ensure the carriers enter into negotiations with a view to
arriving at an arrangement whereby the carriers in future combine their
competing broadband cable systems into one national network.

7.61 This is one way in which many environmental concerns could be
overcome. The pricing structure for access to the cable could be
monitored by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. This
proposal raises the broader issues of what to do about existing
infrastructure including electricity cabling. The Committee believes
there is a window of opportunity and that the Government should
facilitate negotiations with electricity companies aimed at ensuring
that telecommunications carriers and electricity companies share common
underground trenching, and share the costs of undergrounding. This may
require the development of a national infrastructure policy.

7.62 The Committee received evidence that a Victorian council had
recently approached a major Victorian private electricity company in
relation to the issue of aerial cabling. The electricity company made it
clear that it saw the advantages of undergrounding particularly with
regard to improved reliability and security of the network. In fact, the
particular power company had already budgeted for a further staged
undergrounding of powerlines over the long term. [44]

7.63 In arriving at this conclusion, the Committee has had particular
regard to the huge cost of rolling out duplicate cable networks, and the
fact that such massive expenditure results in a relatively small
percentage of the Australian population having access to broadband
services. Targets announced for the end of 1996 include 2.2 million
households to be passed by Telstra and 2.3 million by Optus Vision. The
Committee considers that this is an unacceptably small number of
households that will benefit from such huge investments.

7.64 Whilst the competitive model established by the Telecommunications
Act has brought great benefits to urban Australia, in the form of lower
prices and greatly improved customer service, it now appears possible
that this model will not meet the needs of many people living in low
population density areas for advanced communications services. The
Committee notes that Optus' current network rollout plans do not extend
to rural and remote Australia. 

RECOMMENDATION 30: The Committee recommends the Government urgently
review the strategy of allowing dual Hybrid Optical Fibre/Coaxial cable
roll out, particularly having regard to evidence that such networks will
be obsolete within a decade.

RECOMMENDATION 31: The Committee recommends the Government develop a
long-term national program to relocate all existing overhead cables in
Australia underground.

RECOMMENDATION 32: The Committee recommends the Government legislates
for all future cable installations to be underground.

RECOMMENDATION 33: The Committee recommends the Government immediately
take action to ensure the carriers enter into negotiations with a view
to arriving at an arrangement whereby the carriers in future combine
their competing broadband cable systems into one national network.

RECOMMENDATION 34: The Committee recommends as a minimum, co-location of
cables be mandated wherever it is technically feasible.
RECOMMENDATION 35: The Committee recommends that a levy be raised from
telecommunications and other industry contributors responsible for
electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emissions to finance independent
research into public health issues concerning EMR.

RECOMMENDATION 36: The Committee recommends that no further mobile phone
towers and bases be constructed in proximity to kindergartens, schools
and hospitals, and in any location where people may be at risk from
long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR), until further
research is undertaken that shows there is no risk to public health.


7.91 The Committee was presented with overwhelming evidence of
widespread community dissatisfaction with carrier exemptions, and with
the costs imposed by the duplication of infrastructure. Such
duplications of aerial cabling not only placed financial burdens on
consumers but also despoiled environments.

7.92 The Committee considers that the duplication of infrastructure is
costly and environmentally unsound. Whilst many millions of dollars are
being spent on the development of duplicate telecommunications systems
in metropolitan areas, little thought appears to have been given to the
needs of regional, rural and remote communities who are still seeking
access to telephony services as well as newer technologies.

7.93 If duplication continues, Australia will end up with a legacy of
dual networks of HFC cables which are likely to be obsolete within ten
years if demand for interactive services increase. The rollout of dual
networks is occurring in high density urban areas with aerial cabling
damaging urban vistas.

7.94 The Committee is concerned that in pursuit of a higher sale price,
the Government will not impose adequate environmental safeguards to
address these broad community concerns.


More information about the Link mailing list