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Telstra’s copper network was almost dead 15 years ago, and they knew it

The internet can be a goldmine of little gems. And dig away, you might strike a little gem or two. Like these:

In October 2013 (then Communications Minister) Malcolm Turnbull announced the appointment of former Tesltra boss Ziggy Switkowski as NBN Co to lead a three-person board overseeing the national broadband network.

In his inaugural appearance at a Senate Estimates hearing, Switkowski said Telstra’s copper network is ‘robust’ and has been well-maintained for decades. Concerns expressed about the network not being up to being the basis for a FttN NBN, he added, were “misinformed”. He stressed that:

The copper network has been in place for a long time. It’s constantly being maintained, remediated, upgraded.

We are all too well aware of the criticism of the government’s NBN which is provided through Telstra’s copper network; an antiquated alternative to Rudd’s NBN. But it was remarkable to hear Switkowski’s glowing praise of the copper network when compared to what Telstra had to say about it in 2003 while he was chief of the telco:

Telstra will replace its century-old copper wire phone network with new technology within the next 15 years, saying the ageing lines are now at “five minutes to midnight”.

Telstra executives revealed the problem at a Senate inquiry into broadband services on Wednesday.

Go figure.

I guess Malcolm must have changed his mind for him.


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  1. Mark Needham

    The maintenance of “Old Expired Antiquated Unused Equipment” at exchanges, so as take up the room for ‘Competition Equipment” is galling.
    There is no facility, for you.
    Mark Needham

  2. economicreform

    I have noticed repeatedly that a primary characteristic of conservative governments, whenever they attain office, is their preoccupation with destroying whatever successful systems and infrastructure their political opponents had previously implemented. This is destruction for its own sake. Another primary characteristic is their hell-bent determination to privatize all assets and utilities owned and operated by the state.

  3. billshaw2013

    The NBN is currently being rolled out in my area using FTTN. When the technology of FTTN was originally mooted by Turnbull it was of the understanding that the green nodes would be relatively obscure and placed alongside original Telstra copper cable cabinets. In my area the is a proliferation of new Telstra copper cabinets being installed alongside the NBN green cabinets doubling the street architecture and clutter. This is being kept very quiet to my knowledge.

    I assume that the original copper cabinets proved too far from most residences to achieve any sort of respectable network speed. In other words they have to limit the copper distance from the node to the customer. All this extra effort and outside plant could have been avoided by sticking to the FTTH plan.

    Turnbull has ducked any bullets fired his way in regards his pseudo technology input to the NBN project and must eventually be condemned for his part in withholding Australia back in the IT world.

  4. passum2013

    All i can say as an nbn user its a failure in my area with speeds and dropouts wrong emails opening others dont open or delete so im stuck with 2 sorts of internet that are swapped between each other when one plays up the other does the same thing does any one else out there have these problems

  5. David1

    Just trying to download a large file of say 2gb’s, which in todays world is not large at all, I want to grab both Abbott and Turnbull and throttle them in lieu of any throttling speed wise, on my IP connection. Never do I get over 4mbps and 4 is a bonus. I have friends in Seoul, I phoned last evening to check on their general well being and I asked about their internet speed, knowing Sth Korea is way up at the top in performance, reply ‘ppaleuge beongae’, lightening fast. I checked the world speed chart and the top 3 are

    Rank Country/Territory Avg. Peak Connection speed
    (Mb/s)[3] Relative speed
    – Global 32.5

    1 Singapore 135.7

    2 Hong Kong 105.2

    3 South Korea 95.3

    Australia is down with the 3rd world countries at 7. That of course is not the average it varies wildly around the country eg I am in regional WA and 7 would be very fast for me, never ever get close I live with around 3.
    Will never ever forgive those Tory bastards for what they did to the NBN and along with a multitude of other balls ups, may they rot in the deepest hell.
    I look forward to a right wing troll attempt to justify their wreckage

  6. David

    Lying bastards: As of @ one minute ago I copied and pasted this. abbott and turnbulls’ contribution to Australia, FFS! Download Speed: 5.9 Mbps
    Upload Speed: 570 kbps

  7. Michael Taylor

    We were getting download speeds of 98.5mps in Canberra with Rudd’s NBN. Moved to rural Victoria where we only had ADSL2 and speeds of 4.5. We were relieved when we got at least the Turnbull NBN because we’re on the 100mps plan. The best I’m getting is 3.5, which is when using WiFi, otherwise I get around 2.9. All this for $30 a month more. Wow. As ADSL2 is switched off here, I can’t go back to it.

    Going backwards for $30 a month more.

    Am I pissed off?

  8. Harquebus

    The copper network is fine. It is only the exposed ends that corrode. Using this existing infrastructure over short distances to a node will work just fine for most and will save a small fortune.

  9. Michael Taylor

    It’s fine, is it? That’s why I’m getting speeds of 3.5.

  10. jimhaz

    At the speeds quoted, and the problems encountered, I can see a big big class action suit coming on.

  11. RonaldR

    It has not been properly maintained since the end of the 80’s when Beazley started preparing it to be privatized by Howard.
    No one in government or communications will help compile a map of where Copper wire could not handle Broadband. Giving large areas in all cities and towns just the choice of wireless Internet. This made Telco’s and ISP’s happy as they could price gouge customers more with wireless than Broadband so they are not going to complain.
    Now Imagine if wireless was a lot Cheaper than Broadband using the copper wire the Telcos and ISP’s would have kicked up a shit storm about the poor quality of Copper Wire and Turnbull and NBN could not have been able to scrap the Fibre Optic and buy Telstra’s f*cked Copper wire network .
    Most NBN users are being robbed due to slow speeds from 3pm to Midnight week days and all weekend Those paying for 100Mbps in the times I have mentioned don’t get above 50Mbps and as low as 4Mbps and when they complain to their ISP they cop bullshit from the off shore call centres as customers have no contact with their ISP.
    Once again the Telco’s and ISP’s are in collusion with NBN & government keeping the Truth from us, Bullshiting us and ripping us off.
    The NBN is price gouging us as the Government have stuffed it up and due to their refusal to learn proper funding of infrastructure instead of being Bank Puppets –if Rudd used the same infrastructure model as Curtin and Chifley used the NBN would have been completed while he was PM and all fibre optic at a fraction of the cost.
    They Telco’s and ISP’s should have told the NBN & Government to Shove it unless the charges were reduced by around 75%.
    NBN Charging a little under $18 per Mbps download so each unit the Telco’s and ISP’s should be buying for each connection is not going to happen when you do the Maths. I have signed up for a 100ZMbps at $130 per month but what the Telco is paying is $1800.00 per month so they are not going to use a unit just for my place they are going to have to connect 14 connections just to pay NBN then more to cover their cost and more to make a profit THEY HAVE TO OVER LOAD and that is why we are paying top dollar for 3rd world System and Speeds.
    Murdoch University computer when speed check was done was just over 500Mbps so they must have been connected with Fibre optic and they must have at least a 600Mbps subscription $10800 per Month if paying NBN charges. No wonder university fees are rising out of Control and there is only one solution support and Join the CEC the only people with the policies and solutions to fix the mess Australia is in everywhere you look .
    The NBN is the first large infrastructure program since the Snowy Mountain Scheme and it it is a complete f*ck up and years behind in when it will be completed IF !

  12. Harquebus

    Michael Taylor
    Your copper cable might be the problem; it might also be a bad connection, faulty equipment, congestion, excessive distance, interference/crosstalk or one of many other things that can cause slow speeds. It might also be your home wiring if you have a phone extension or other modifications.

  13. dragonnanny

    Can someone please tell me if these figures are good or bad – I am in Melbourne’s outer south east? We don’t have NBN and I am receiving letters asking to pre-order for when NBN is up and running in our street but after seeing some horror stories over time I am very reluctant to sign up for it and pay more if these figures are good. Thanks for any help.

    25.3 Mbps download

    1.66 Mbps upload
    Latency: 29 ms
    Server: Sydney

  14. Michael Taylor

    H’, we live in a new house in a new area and we are about 400 metres from the box.

  15. Michael Taylor

    My NBN is that slow that won’t even load.

  16. Roswell

    Friends of mine in Queensland had to fly interstate on an emergency. They hopped on to the Qantas site and saw that there were three seats left on the next available flight (they needed two seats). They missed out because the site dropped out all the time when they tried booking their seats.

  17. Michael Taylor

    PS: thanks to Kaye Lee and Bacchus for the links in my post.

  18. olddavey


    Mbps: (Small “b”) A megabit per second (Mbit/s or Mbps) is a unit of data transfer rate equal to 1,000,000 bits per second or 1,000 kilobits per second. 8 Megabits per second is equivalent to 1 Megabyte per second (ie. 8 Mbps = 1 MBps). Hence 1 Megabits per second = 0.125 Megabyte per second (ie. 1 Mbps = 0.125 MBps)).

    That’s about 3 Megabytes per second, so a gigabyte (1000 megabytes) will take over 5 minutes to download.

    Check to see if you’re being offered 25.3 MBps and not Mbps. 25 megabytes is a reasonable rate and what we in Frankston should be getting but here I’m lucky to get more than 10 megs at the best of times, and that’s with FTTP.

    Thanks, Malcolm!

    PS, these are two good speed test sites:

  19. Michael Taylor

    Yes, it has been tested. The fault is with NBNCo, and they have admitted it.

  20. Graeme Henchel

    This disaster deserves a Royal Commission.

  21. john ocallaghan

    Abbott and turnbull were under instructions from their Lord And Master Murdoch to nobble FTTH,and like all loyal unquestioning good little sycophants they followed his instructions to the letter!

  22. dragonnanny

    Thank you olddavey, here is the result from the ozspeedtest you linked

    Your Line Speed
    Mbps (32,388 kbps)
    Your Download Speed
    MB/s (4,048 KB/s)

    ……….. I think I will stay as I am, at least the internet works….most of the time 🙂 Both lots of figures were copied, not typed so I won’t make a typo

  23. Florence nee Fedup

    Copper was declared by Telecom to be crapped out, past use by date 1990. Privatising seen nothing done from then on. If Howard had sold off 2 arms separately, fibre & fast broadband might have ensured.

    Howard tried some 17 times to get fast braodband off the ground. Labor had one unsuccessful attempt. which no one come to the party.

    Decision was then made to go full fibre by passing crapped out copper. Took long time to get Telstra’s permission to used ducts & pipes.

    Took Telstra out of the game.

    Turnbull reverse all this, leaving us with expensive inefficient system.

  24. Kaye Lee

    Back in 2005……

    Yesterday Telstra’s boss, Sol Trujillo, announced a record profit and then asked the Government to help pay for a $5 billion rollout of fibre-optic and wireless technology across the country.

    Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says his party deserves the credit for Telstra’s $5 billion plan to roll out state-of-the-art technology across the country.

    Then a few months later….

    IF TELSTRA is forced to give open access to its high-speed fibre optic cable and wireless networks after it is privatised, it will think twice about making major investments in those crucial areas, according to a senior Telstra executive.

    Howard, of course, refused to back the idea.

  25. Zathras

    Further to Kaye’s comment, when Sol Trujillo was CEO he introduced the next generation of transmission and switching technologies and tried to get a deal with John Howard to financially assist in cabling major cities with optical fibre.

    Howard declined but Trujillo wound back maintenance of copper cable as well as maintenance staff levels and it’s been declining ever since.

    In addition, many of the (poorly qualified and experienced) NBN Contractors working in major Telstra pits have been using the lead cable sheathing as “ladders”, cracking them and allowing water seepage, further degrading the network.

    Once upon a time as new residential developments were being built, Telstra would pre-cable these at it’s own expense but no longer. It’s up to the developer to make its own arrangements and pass the cost onto the land purchaser so who knows what’s being provided now.

    As for Ziggy, before he was hired by Telstra (and before Trujillo) he was a failed OPTUS CEO but his main role at Telstra was to oversee the 2nd tranche sale process and prepare for the third.

    It was the privatisation that was the final nail in the coffin of the copper network.

  26. Michael Taylor

    I’ve been told that Flash Fibres are something worth looking at. They’re only available on the Sunshine Coast at the moment.

  27. Max Gross

    Turnbull. on Abbott’s (and Murdoch’s) behalf, deliberately sabotaged the NBN. The LNP continue to sabotage the nation’s best interests in their bloody-minded class and culture wars. The word for this is treason.

  28. Jai Ritter

    I’m moving into a house that’s 50 metres from an exchange. I’ll be on cable adsl2 and will avoid the NBN when it comes here in late 2018 ( originally said late 2016) but we know being on time is exactly an NBN trate.

    I’ve got to know the telstra techs quite well in my town over the years, because Im well researched and knowledgeable on this issue and know exactly what speeds I should and shouldn’t be getting so let’s just say theyve spent alot of time at the different houses I’ve rented over the years. Im also the go to tech guy in the family so I’m forever dealing with telstra for family on all sides.

    I’ve seen the mess of the copper wires. Corroded, wrapped in plastic bags, wires poking out everywhere and sitting in pits of water. It’s a bloody disgrace and the telstra tech guys have all said our whole town is so bad that it’s pretty much pointless unless we get FTTP. They are going to spend just as much time out here and we are going to have just as many drop outs until you rip up every single bit of copper in town.

    I could go on and on but is there anyone even really listening?!

  29. David1

    jai your post is worth a read by Harquebus…particularly this in light of his first effort. ‘I’ve seen the mess of the copper wires. Corroded, wrapped in plastic bags, wires poking out everywhere and sitting in pits of water. It’s a bloody disgrace and the telstra tech guys have all said our whole town is so bad that it’s pretty much pointless unless we get FTTP. They are going to spend just as much time out here and we are going to have just as many drop outs until you rip up every single bit of copper in town’.

  30. Michael Taylor

    Enjoy it while you can, Jai. It gets worse (in my experience).

  31. Chris Leyland

    You know, the whole thing with the NBN, no matter how good, bad or indifferent is the fact that GOVERNMENTS look for short cuts, to cut costs. Fact!. FTTN technology “in theory” should work ok, , in a perfect world, never “mind shattering”, but ok and acceptable. Those people that have FTTP, seem to have no big issues, FACT! Granted, models of Fibre infrastructure developed and implemented by other countries could have been done here… again FACT. However, that would have cost more… but it would have been FINISHED and it actually works.

    The NBN has been through our major rural town, and I don’t think I have heard of 1 person that is happy with their connection. We have a “micro node” less than 50 mts from my premises and a copper connection pit on our boundary. Connection… NO CHANCE, adsl2 speed currently , this evening 1.5! Try streaming a movie, watch a you tube clip or load a complex web page with video ADVERTISING, and watch the buffering symbol on screen – for several seconds, many times a minute! Then people connected to the NBN that you meet, say they wish they never gave up their ADSL connection… OMG!

    SO , Harquebus , yes, I AGREE! to quote your wording (with the ambiguity removed) the copper cable IS the problem; it probably IS also be a bad connection, faulty equipment, congestion, excessive distance, interference/crosstalk or one of many other things that can cause slow speeds. It probably IS also your home wiring ( and from the pit to your wall) if you have a phone extension or other modifications. – all valid points, BUT FTTP would be a really good starting point, because before the fiber roll-out was phased out to individual homes, there are a hell of a lot of people that actually got it and the rest of us are PISSED.

    So although you might be trying to be helpful, try running a modern life on 1 to 1.5 speed home internet, because, I CANT directly connect to the cesspool of soggy, corroded copper wire at my boundary fence (apparently the rollout bypassed us and our sub division 100mts from the CBD of town!) and NBNco, have just said, that although we cant connect, we do have the wireless option (@ sometimes 1 bar signal strength) but can download at 4g great speeds if not congested, (but using copious amounts of valuable mobile data) SO, TRYING to fix the above mentioned issues, most of the time YOU JUST CANT- and as you said already ” nothing wrong with the copper” why do we get someone working at the pit every other day, putting a barrier across our driveway. because our phone line died, or a neighbor or someone down the street – the copper is “just fine”, its just the compromised connections and the antiquated way the repairs are completed…It works till they leave the street ( mostly) and progressively gets worse … again…Ssssso you wonder why people are fed up?
    Cheers. from FRUSTRATED
    fault service line,- Have you completed the diagnostic tests on line?…. NO, I cant get on line… have you disconnected all th……. yes, it is plugged directly into the home entry socket, everything else is disconnected other than the modem and the new filter … oh Ill test your line now, – it seems fine sir, you have dial tone and that’s more than some people have….GRRR BEEEEEP
    David1, right there with you, we have that out front

  32. Harquebus

    It wasn’t always this way. Publicly owned Telstra properly maintained its equipment and kept logs. As I said, it is only the ends that corrode and the mess, the result of profit motivated privatization of public assets, is just that, a mess. It is not dysfunctional. The speeds being attained over copper are adequate for most users.
    The screwup that is the current version of the NBN is due mostly to politics and ideology. Gettin’ ready to sell. The basic concept of FTTN is sound and has many advantages. Flexibility being at the top of the list.

  33. Kaye Lee

    Living in a marginal seat, we had FttN thrust on us early in the piece with great fanfare. It drops out several times every day and, when it does, we also lose our landline telephones. This happens both at home and at work. When people try to ring they are told the number has been disconnected. I have been in constant communication with Telstra NBN and every technician, without exception, will tell you what a f*ck up it is. The guy in NBN sales told me that he had a complaint in with the ombudsman about his home connection. I have been dealing with the ombudsman for over a year with a business loss claim because we were without EFTPOS at work for 2 months all due to the NBN. I can only assume that those who are saying FttN is a good idea are not actually hooked up to it. Speeds are very variable and reliability is non-existent.

  34. bob

    The NBN is a national disgrace, and the abject failure of this project is entirely the fault of The COALition.

  35. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    As I said. The concept is sound as is the technology. If NBN Co f*ck it up, that’s their fault. I told Malcolm Turnbull how to do it when he was communications minister. Yes thank you very much and then went and screwed it up. As usual, no one listens. The NBN has never recovered.

  36. Bacchus

    Sorry, it’s late – I’ve finished a difficult shift, but one thing a quick read of this thread has confirmed is that Harquebus has NFI what he’s talking about! I will apologise tomorrow if I’ve misread this, but Harquebus, you’re FOS!

    I worked for Telstra, in various technical and IT roles for over 30 years, and what you’ve spewed forth in this thread merely confirms my opinion of most of your previous dialogue here.

    “I told Malcolm Turnbull how to do it when he was communications minister” – Delusional much?

    “The copper network is fine.” Stuff me pickled grandmother’s mushrooms – the copper network was doomed from when the ACCC dictated that Telstra had to sell access to its competitors at a rate less than the cost of maintaining that network! It’s one of those fallacies that competition automatically equals better service. Why TF would Telstra spend money maintaining its own network for the benefit of competitors at below cost?

    “As I said, it is only the ends that corrode and the mess, the result of profit motivated privatization of public assets, is just that, a mess. It is not dysfunctional. The speeds being attained over copper are adequate for most users.” – ‘Only the ends corrode’? Sorry! Just plain Bullshit!

    ‘It is not dysfunctional’ – perhaps you should read accounts of those who actually HAVE FTTN NBN connections? ‘The speeds being attained over copper are adequate for most users.’ – Credibility totally destroyed!

    Thanks Harquebus – I now know to how to evaluate your other rants…

  37. Jai Ritter

    Ive done speed tests while at friends and family who are on NBN because I was curious as to what all the complaints were about. Every speed test I did was so inconsistant and intermittent that I couldn’t help but laugh. When downloading larger files it would just jump all over the place from 200kbps to 1.7 megabytes per second. This was on the 25/5 ” default plan” by the way, because for some weird reason telstra don’t up sell. Does anybody know why that is?

    Anyway on 25/5 you should be getting around 3 megabytes a second which should download 2 gigabytes in about 6 minutes. That’s not even close to being the case, I’d see it jump up to that speed very rarely and downloading large files takes a hell of a lot longer than downloading on adsl2 which seems to hold its speeds better than Malcolm’s so called whizz bang MTM.

    I feel sorry for people working from home especially if they have an Internet business. My old next door neighbours run a business from home and practically live at the end of the line, their max speed was 400kbps down an 50kbps dialup speeds up. Most of the time they had to resort to expensive 4g which was reaching 25mbps to get by, costing them a small fortune in the process.

    I thought this government was all about small business?

  38. Jai Ritter

    Just to add, we are now scheduled for FTTC, fibre to the curb or fibre to the crappy copper pit still filled with water. This is a monumental f*ck up of huge proportions.

  39. Jai Ritter

    And thankyou aimn for actually writing about it, we don’t get a peep out of the MSM. Even the guardian is a disappointment. This isn’t some road being built in a small town, where just a couple of people are whinging to the council about how long it’s taking and the poor job they’re are doing. This was suppose to change the future of this country and if a business seriously had this many complaints, well it’s should be in effing business.

  40. Möbius Ecko

    “…we don’t get a peep out of the MSM.”

    Yet notice the glitzy NBN ads doing the rounds over the last 12 months or so. They are aimed at schoolkids, families and specific ones for business. Looking at them you would believe that Turnbull’s fraudband was a world leader instead of being I think 63rd in the latest rankings, a drop from 60th.

    Turnbull won’t be in government when it happens, but some future government will have to fork out a huge amount to fix his monumental stuff up. I hope when this happens, be it a Labor, L-NP or some other party with a minority government, they truly trash Turnbull and the government he led for all it’s worth and history reflects his failure to the nation.

  41. Jai Ritter

    Mobius, especially the ads on facebook. It’s simply propagandist fluff. They just get bombarded with complaints and it’s the same copy and paste reply every time.

    I sometimes have to question my sanity when reading the NBNs rubbish, much like this governments.

  42. Zathras

    The copper street cables in my area are about 20 years old.
    I moved from ADSL2 onto the NBN about a year ago and have found the service to be OK, despite occasional outages.

    The speeds I’m getting are slightly faster than ADSL2+ and should improve a little further as more people who share my particular street cable migrate off ADSL onto NBN due to a phenomenon called “mid-point injection” and as a NBN/Telstra customer I expect my service won’t be throttled by link congestion – unlike those ISPs who offer “unlimited” downloads by simply overloading their links.

    However I also realise that the speeds I get now are likely the best they will ever be.

    As for the notion that current speeds are adequate, it’s only 20 years since the 56K dial-up MODEM was invented and I recall similar arguments about the 33.6K dial-up being quite OK for “current demands”.

    The number of lanes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge was once considered to be excessive to future requirements and a waste of money.

    Even our Kiwi cousins have realised that FTTN is a dead-end and are moving toward a full fibre solution.

    The argument over the NBN was a purely political one and Abbott was against it on principle alone and his initial response was to “destroy” it. When that didn’t work he changed his strategy and this mess is the result.

  43. David1

    Thanks Bacchus, a timely intervention.

  44. Harquebus

    Did you not read “Publicly owned Telstra”. The point about maintenance and logs was something told to me by a Telstra tech and I believe it. My dad started and spent most of his working life with the PMG/Telecom.

    Here is a link that I posted earlier. Not everyone is complaining and as I also stated earlier, there are many reasons that can cause slow network speed.
    FTTN/VDSL2 Speeds vs Copper phone line Distance

    I did put forward an outline for the NBN to M.T. for which he responded himself via email. We didn’t have to have the mess that we have now. Even Conroy’s plan, as bad as that was, was better.
    If I had my way, our NBN would be very different and every phone line in Australia would have free speed limited internet. Also, I oppose privatization of vital infrastructure.


  45. Kronomex

    We’re lucky if we get more than 15 minutes at 2 meg a second over the copper line and somewhere around 2020, according to Not Bloody Now, they’re going to put us on wireless and to get that we’ll have to put up a tower to be in line of sight. Oh the thrill, the unbounded joy and pleasure.

  46. Turdbulleatsdicks

    Pay more get less the Turdbull way

  47. Holy Quinn

    Looks like Harquebus says to get Bacchus into your box!

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