"If you had to pick a country in the world where it would be most expensive to deploy a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network, Australia is always going to be very close to the top of that list."
That's straight from the mouth of NBN, getting out in front of criticism from academics on the cost of the pricy and limited FTTP rollout around the country.
Chief network engineering officer at NBN Peter Ryan lays out the national broadband network's reasoning in a blog post, saying that Australia's size and population density are essentially to blame. With fewer than three people per square kilometre this wide brown land of ours is massively less populated than a country like Singapore or Hong Kong, each with 7987 and 6442 heads per square kilometre respectively.
(It's worth keeping in mind that in Australia's capital cities have areas where the population density is much higher: Sydney and Melbourne both have areas where 17,000 people live within a square kilometre. These suburbs, like Waterloo in Sydney's south, are generally well served by fibre-to-the-basement to apartment buildings.)
Speaking to the Senate committee on the NBN, University of Melbourne academic and NBN expert Rod Tucker estimated the NBN's fibre to the premises network's cost to be $4404 per premises passed, versus $2677 in New Zealand and $2259 in the US.
The explanation for these high costs per premises are justified — somewhat — in NBN's response blog post. Areas on the suburban fringe that have fibre rolled to them may only connect "a couple dozen premises", driving the cost per premises up versus a more dense ideal where hundreds or thousands of houses and businesses on tightly packed blocks and streets are passed. It says that "...over the last few years nbn has had connection costs for individual premises that have run to tens of thousands of dollars — and these are not isolated cases by any means — inevitably driving higher costs for our overall FTTP deployment."
NBN's blog post uses a couple of strawman arguments, though. Saying "there is simply no getting away from the fact that delivering universal FTTP in Australia is always going to be more expensive than almost anywhere else in the world," it puts forward the argument of connecting every Australian property to full fibre — even remote cattle stations and shacks in the Kimberley, which no rational Australian would ever have expected. It also says "we cannot pick and choose who we connect based on how much it will cost to connect them", ignoring the fact that the government of the day influences network design with its policy.
It's upfront about what it sees as the facts of the matter, though: "it's highly unlikely that fibre to the premises will ever be cheaper than the other technologies NBN is deploying, nor anywhere near as quick to deploy." [NBN / The Australian]