Access seekers locked out of dark fibre

Access to dark fibre poised to be a major issue in broadband network rollouts

Access seekers looking to buy or lease unlit optical fibre from Telecom’s network company Chorus will have to look elsewhere as they won’t be served.

Also known as dark fibre, such circuits are in demand from customers who would like full control over the link. Lighting dark fibre is also a lot cheaper than buying transmission capacity on already lit pipe.

However, according to Chorus spokeswoman Melanie Marshall, her company will only supply Telecom’s Wholesale and Retail operations.

This week in print: "Telecom, TelstraClear man the dark fibre barricades"
Chorus can turn down access seekers wanting dark fibre because of a little known provision in the deal Telecom did with the government during its operational separation negotiations.

In its legally binding Undertakings, Telecom was not required to give open access to dark fibre. Instead, Telecom is required to give access to what Chorus terms “transmission capacity” on its fibre assets.

Fibre access seekers are, therefore, being directed to Telecom Wholesale, which sells managed circuits such as a range of Ethernet-based services as part of providing access to the transmission capacity.

With Telecom seemingly poised to play a major role in the government's new $1.5 billion broadband rollout, the issue of dark fibre access remains in limbo. If access to that network is governed by the existing undertakings, however, a dark-fibre lockout could be "grandfathered" into the new taxpayer-funded networks.

TelstraClear is also refusing access to unlit fibre on its network.

That situation is making some access seekers who see dark fibre access as opening up a range of new — and affordable — service options unhappy.

James Watts, who runs Palmerston North-based ISP Inspire Net, says the reason dark fibre is attractive to his customers because they can “do whatever the hell they want with it”.

Watts says Telecom’s policy of not selling unlit circuits to anyone apart from its own Retail and Wholesale operations, makes a mockery of operational separation.

“If Telecom believed in the current legislation, Chorus would be selling dark fibre to everybody,” Watts says.

Vector spokeswoman Philippa White says her company offers both dark fibre services and lit managed services while Steve Fuller, CEO of Enable Networks in Christchurch, says dark fibre is a fundamental part of his company’s business model.

Marshall says Chorus is required to provide an input service for Telecom Wholesale’s fibre to the premises service, as per clause 20 of the Undertakings. Marshall did not specify what the input service in question is.

Telecom Wholesale in turn is required to provide a fibre to the premises (FttP) access service to Telecom’s retail units and service providers in areas where Chorus has deployed FttP Access Network Architecture, according to clause 65 of the Undertakings, Marshall says.

She says those seeking access can use Telecom Wholesale circuits as inputs for their retail services. She says Telecom Wholesale has a major product development programme underway to enhance the current range, focusing on “new wave” Ethernet based services.

Marshall adds that Telecom Wholesale is in the middle of a pilot that offers a range of residential fibre-delivered broadband products. These can provide access seekers with wholesale input products that will enable them to sell services to customers in subdivisions with FttP.

A commercial launch of this pilot is due in the middle of next year by Wholesale, Marshall says.


Steven Joyce on dark fibre

In February, newly minted ICT minister Steven Joyce said the National government would be putting most of its promised $1.5 billion broadband investment into dark fibre infrastructure, implying that the higher levels of broadband services will be left to private providers.

In June, he told a Commerce Committee meeting, as reported in the National Business Review, that the government proposed primarily a dark fibre service. He said one of the themes coming back from organisations such as CityLink was that “while it’s good in theory to just restrict everybody to dark fibre with the Crown investment, in practice there aren’t enough wholesalers out there to do the next bit for the demand to be there.

“So they wanted the ability to wholesale — not actually sell necessarily direct to customers but to wholesale services above that dark fibre layer. We didn’t prohibit that in the initial investment proposal but we perhaps didn’t make it as positive and clear as we could have, and certainly that’s been one of the strong feedbacks,” Joyce said.

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