NBN HFC Rollout Known Internally As 'Operation Clusterf***': Conroy

The rollout of the hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) part of the troubled national broadband network is known internally as "Operation Clusterf—-", says Labor senator Stephen Conroy. "I know the internal nickname you've got for the HFC rollout, and it's not fit to actually describe on the public record: Operation Cluster … something," Mr Conroy told NBN chief executive Bill Morrow during a heated exchange at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The Turnbull government and the company rolling out its so-called "multi-technology mix" have been under increasing scrutiny over the viability of the HFC part of its network rollout, which uses outdated Telstra and Optus HFC cables (the kind used for receiving Foxtel).

Labor senator Stephen Conroy says the Optus hybrid-fibre coaxial network that will be used in the NBN is 'a pile of rubbish'. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Media leaks last year showed the poor quality of Optus' HFC network and Telstra's copper nodes meant they would cost more than expected to fix up.

The Coalition government won a mandate in 2013 to deliver the NBN using a mix of existing technologies including legacy copper and HFC networks to lower costs in comparison with Labor's predominantly fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) plan.

However, rollout forecasts and costs have since been revised, with NBN staffers continuing to leak internal documents which bring into question the viability of continuing with the multi-technology plan.

NBN and the Coalition government have continually rejected any reports the project rollout is not on track.

Senator Conroy referred specifically to the Optus HFC network as "a pile of rubbish".

He questioned the NBN boss over the company's ability to meet its overall rollout targets as a result of the problems plaguing the HFC component.

"2.3 million premises [ready for HFC service] by FY18 – they're your numbers, you've published them, and all I'm saying is you haven't found a construction partner yet [for HFC]," Senator Conroy said.

Mr Morrow defended NBN's ability to meet the project's overall rollout targets with a 2020 completion date, arguing that "we are killing it in terms of delivering on that''. However, he admitted the schedule of the HFC component – or other technologies individually – may change from what the company had previously forecast.

NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow defended progress on the network. Photo: Rob Homer

"Everything we have published [in terms of rollout of individual technologies] … is subject to change," Mr Morrow said.

In the latest in a series of damning leaks of internal NBN documents, last month Fairfax Media obtained documents that revealed the multi-technology rollout had fallen two-thirds short of its own benchmark construction timetable, with connection costs also rising.

Mr Morrow said individual rollout figures were "not internal targets; they are not government targets".

Senator Conroy also questioned Mr Morrow extensively over whether the NBN board had rejected a recommendation from the company to pursue faster fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FTTDP) technology instead of fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) in parts of its rollout as the costs of installing fibre in the network came down.

"Millions of Australians have to get a third-rate network because the board doesn't believe the advice that it's been given by its own executives," Mr Conroy said.

However, Mr Morrow defended the board's decision not to adopt the technology yet, saying an FTTDP rollout had been little more than a "discussion" about 12 months ago.

Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wasn't so "arrogant", Australians could have faster internet speeds.

"The head of NBN Co today revealed that he has discussed with the NBN board replacing Malcolm Turnbull's second rate copper NBN with a plan to roll out fibre all the way to people's driveway [FTTDP] – meaning much faster internet," Mr Clare said.

"The only reason this hasn't happened yet is because it will prove Malcolm Turnbull was wrong and his copper NBN is a dud."

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.



    Let's face it ... most federal and state government in the past 10+ years can be described as a cluster fuck.

    Waiting for my mothers place to get connect. One side of the street is live with FTTP, my mums side of the street is still waiting on getting FTTN.

    Here's a map - http://i.imgur.com/8v2A8kI.jpg

    Two different technologies on two different sides of the street. One significantly superior to the other.

    Truly a clusterf*ck

      i'd be tempted to rig up a network cable to plug into the fttp side.

        Or use a WIFI Bridge.

    NBN ran so smoothly when Conroy was Comms Minister ;)

    Saying the government had a mandate is a bit misleading. No Australian specifically voted on the NBN portion of the two government's plans.
    They voted on the performance of the government over the terms previous, the use of 'mandate' to claim that every policy of the incoming government was the one Australians wanted is a stretch at best but we don't get to vote on individual policy directions.

      There's a table somewhere showing percentages of votes prior to preferences being handed along showing which parties were for and against FTTP, and I believe it was approx 57% of voters voted for parties for a FTTP NBN. So in fact they did not have at all a mandate to do this to an important piece of national infrastructure.

      Edit: found it... https://i.imgur.com/U2lLBcO.png

      Last edited 16/03/16 2:29 pm

        Much as I want that to be relevant, senate votes have nothing to do with party platforms. The Senate doesn't create policies, it only authorises them. Do you have a similar chart for House of Representatives?

      Yes, Calming Mandate is really pushing it. If it was a mandate wouldn't they have also won enough seats in the Senate to have a mandated control of government?
      Now look were this is going!

      Yes, the people voted against Rudd & Gillard.

      They didn't vote for an obsolete NBN that is worse than that in some third-world countries.

      It is sad that neither Turnbull nor Bill Morrow can get over the own egos and simply say "due to efficiency gains and availability of new more flexible fibre cable, FTTdp is now viable and we are going to do it. "

      There is no way I can vote for Turnbull while he still insists on building his Dodgy Brothers clusterf..k network.

        Is it that hard to believe there were a lot of voters in the last election that specifically voted against the Labor NBN plan when you yourself intend to specifically vote against the LNP NBN plan next election?

        Not that I was one of them, for the record. I want a FTTP network rolled out intelligently, which neither party offered last election and I doubt either party will offer next election. Sad times.

      Indeed, politicians are very good at the double talk, and no party is exempt from being loose with the truth.

    We didn't need an overpaid politician to tell us, I'm pretty sure the greater Australian population figured this one out on their own.

    Last edited 16/03/16 1:19 pm

    Just finished my cert 3 in telecommunications and there is no work out there for me or the other people who did the course to work for the NBN. Reason = Victoria still hasn't written up a plan to know what they're doing. First it was copper, then HFC and now they're talking about fibre. The problem is no one knows what's going on and it's grinding to a halt. Having an election this year is not helping either as the liberals are putting it on the back burner. This is one complete joke and so far the gov has wasted billions of dollars buying back the copper from Telstra and telling optus to stop it's HFC. Yes this is one cluster fuck that is costing Australians billions of dollars and relegating them to an obsolete internet system.

      Have you contacted NBN co? They were doing a recruitment drive as recently as this year, they're funnelling applicants through to the third party companies they're contracting to do the work.

        The only jobs are for experienced copper jointers. No one is taking the newbies although the NBN is saying they need 2 thousand workers. They might be wanting them but not at the moment they don't.

    The whole NBN, the government building a comms network, was a clusterf***p to start with.
    It was never achievable for the original budget and within the original timeframe.
    Con-roy should face up to his stuff up to start with before he throws stones.
    Apart from the severe internet censorship he was paddling.
    Having said the whole asssessment of the 20 odd year old HFC network was also a stuff-up.
    It should have been a private enterprise with government incentive but based on realistic requirements not ideology based propaganda crap to start with.
    Expecting 10Gbps on the furthest farm is not realistic. when you move to the country side in a lonely farm you also don't have 3 supermarkets competing for your business beside your garden shed.
    Cheapest for Australia: bury the mess and start again, but that would be political suicide for either side.
    So for now its cough up and pay for us and whinge and whine for those who never contribute a $ of tax.

      >It was never achievable for the original budget and within the original timeframe.

      Probably not a good idea to replace it with something far worse, then?

      The tech choice in the original plan was right.

        Labor's tech choice was right, the rollout plan was wrong. LNP changed the tech choice but didn't change the rollout plan. They're both horrendously incompetent when it comes to IT, which is why I tried to make sure I never got my hopes up about NBN.

    I was going to have another whinge about the fact I've had fibre hanging in my basement since the Labor govt, and figured might as well pointlessly chuck my details into the NBN availability website. Well bam, sometime since I last checked in Jan they actually connected it to something, and now I can get FTTB. Absolutely zero communication telling me that it was available.

    Now I have to work out if full 100/40 is worthwhile on MTM or if I should just pay a little less for the mid tier. I'm presuming FTTB wouldn't lose much speed vs FTTN given it's fibre up until my building and then CAT6 anyway.

      Lucky bastard.

        Definitely, although if I didn't check availability I wouldn't of known until they terminated the phone lines in a year given the zero communication.

    Depends how many people in your apartment building are hooking up to the shared fiber connection... but generally, FTTB will be a lot faster than FTTN, because (as you said) you have CAT6 throughout the building. FTTN has crappy old copper cables, and possibly a lot more homes connecting to the node.

      my mate got FTTB in his city apartment, its decently fast with crazy uploads

      meanwhile im in my shitty suburban apartment using TPG, while the new apartment complex across the road has FTTH!

    I believe him. Conroy is an expert on clusterfucks, after all.

    Technology was always going to win in the end, so the govt. should never have gotten themselves involved.
    Left to their own devices Telstra and Optus would have deployed DOCSIS 3.1 on their own and cost the taxpayer nothing... and we wouldn't have bought back a useless UTP network.
    The govt. should have then just worried about locking in service agreements from providers, and assisted with funding where required, to ensure they also build out to unprofitable locations.
    What happens if future technologies make fibre redundant, or everything goes wireless, this will be the biggest white elephant ever imposed on the Australian taxpayer.

    Last edited 26/03/16 12:36 pm

      I don't believe for a minute that the ISP would cough up to upgrade to a proper internet connection. Even DOCSIS 3.1 has a very limited upload speed, which makes things hard. Extra download speed is great, sure, but it's the upload speed that's handicapping. I should not have to actively tell people to stop downloading before I do things like remote desktop so my house doesn't come to a standstill. We are on optus cable by the way

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