Infrastructure Duplication? Duct structure is the problem, not the cable

Singaporean Government-controlled Optus is obviously taking the opportunity to have a swipe at Telstra. But the out-dated natural monopoly argument still being used to prevent infrastructure duplication is a smoke-screen.

The idea is that duplicating infrastructure is inefficient and leads to unnecessary civic disruption and unsightly cables, boxes and so on. The early telegraph and telephone days are cited as proof of this problem.

But it is clear that where a provider has access to the duct structure or the poles (that is, the conduit), the provider is able to deploy wire or cable to connect consumers. Transact in Canberra is a prime example. 

Where Transact (through ACTEW) owns the power poles, consumers have access to the Transact's cable. If you live in Gungahlin, where the ACT Government rushed the development of the suburb's infrastructure through a variety of public-private joint ventures, you get, well, nothing.

So when Optus supports a measure designed to prevent the duplication of infrastructure, it is important to look closely at the argument against duplication.

Put simply, it is inefficient to duplicate the duct structure or the poles (the conduit), not the actual cable. Additional cables increase bandwidth. Additional conduits cause the problems experienced in the early days of the telegraph and the telephone.

Shara Evans at Market Clarity suggested at a broadband conference in Sydney last year that government could improve access to the duct structure by adding this component to all new road-building projects .at a fraction of the cost to do this as a separate project. As the road is built, so is the duct structure.

The main reason this doesn't happen already? The division of powers between the federal, state and local governments.
So the next time you hear Optus or any other telco arguing against "infrastructure duplication", the duct structure is the problem, not the cable.

Put simply, the interests supporting the new measures to avoid infrastructure duplication are worthy of further investigation. And to make matters worse, none of this even got a mention in the whole NBN debate.