Aurora NBN pole plan 'cheaper, faster'

ARCHITECTS of the National Broadband Network knew before the rollout began that it would be cheaper and faster to connect homes using Aurora's poles and wire network, a Senate Committee has heard.

Aurora Energy general manager of service delivery Michael Larkin told a Senate inquiry in Hobart yesterday that 90 per cent of the 4000 homes connected in stage one of the 2010 trial relied on Aurora infrastructure, but that the model changed for stage two of the rollout, which is supposed to see 200,000 Tasmanian homes and businesses receive the fibre-to-the-premises connection.

Mr Larkin said the poles-and-wire model was particularly appropriate for small, regional communities, and said he was not sure why the rollout model had changed.

The state government put a proposal to NBN Co in October suggesting it revert to a mainly above-ground rollout to ensure Tasmanian premises were connected within the original budget and timeframe.

Mr Larkin said Aurora had some informal discussions with NBN Co about the proposal, but had not yet heard a decision.

``The advice from NBN Co is that they await advice from the government as to what the situation will be going forward,'' he said.

The inquiry heard that the six-month delay in the rollout caused by Telstra taking control of its asbestos-contaminated cable pits last year had cost Tasmanian contractors millions in unused equipment.

Civil Contractors Federation of Australia chief executive Tony Cook said a meeting of 25 contractors affected by the delay in July claimed $3.17 million in unpaid debts from Visionstream, the company responsible for the rollout in Tasmania, and $18.8 million in costs outlaid by contractors attempting to gear up for the work.

Mr Cook said contractors received a strong message from Visionstream that they should invest to prepare for several years' work, but that delays and subsequent piecemeal approach to awarding jobs had caused some contractors to go bankrupt.

Mr Cook said contractors would like to be able to talk to Visionstream to know where the development was at, and what more work would be offered.

Opposition communications spokesman Stephen Conroy, who was on the panel of the inquiry, said Visionstream had been invited to attend the hearing but had declined, saying it was prevented by NBN Co from speaking publicly.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied NBN Co prevented Visionstream from appearing.

Mr Turnbull said the rollout was back on track in Tasmania, despite concerns raised by Senator Conroy and Digital Tasmania spokesman John Dalton that an additional 4000 homes had been made uncertain of their access date.

``We think it's a once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to help Tasmania transform its economy to be less dependent on resources, or on any one section of the economy,'' Mr Dalton said.

Mr Turnbull said NBN Co had instructed another 17,000 premises be passed by the fibre network, further to the 32,820 already passed.

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