Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Broadband Lost Opportunities: Gas and Broadband

1999/2000 saw the laying of the "Eastern Gas Pipeline" (EGP) - 795km from Longford in Victoria to Horsley Park in Sydney, at around $450M. It carries natural gas from Gippsland Basin (and Bass Strait?) and provides additional supply security to NSW.

The mainline route is:
close to the towns of Bairnsdale, Orbost and the Cann River, before turning north past Bombala and Cooma. From the eastside of the Snowy Mountain region, it travels northeast to the coast through Nowra, Port Kembla, Wilton and on to Horsley Park to its termination point on the outskirts of Sydney.
Country Energy Gas is the NSW regional retailer. The Energy Networks Australia State Summary say this about the NSW country towns connected to Natural Gas:
There are 24 210 km of reticulation mains serving 901 000 customers in the State’s major urban areas, and its large and small regional centres.

Wagga Wagga, Tumut, Adelong, Cooma, Bombala and Gundagai, Albury
Nowra, Bomaderry and Queanbeyan.
Some of NSW's gas pipeline "Laterals" are listed in this NCC PDF file:
  • the Mainline from Moomba to Wilton;
  • the Dalton to Canberra lateral;
  • the lateral pipeline from Young to Cootamundra and Wagga Wagga;
  • lateral pipelines from Young to Bathurst, Orange, Lithgow and Oberon; and
  • the lateral pipeline from Burnt Creek to Junee, Griffith, Leeton and Narrandera;
The Sydney Hydraulic Power Company (now part of KONE Elelvators) pipe network was shutdown in 1975 after nearly a century of operation. The buried high-pressure water pipe through the CBD remained a valuable asset. In the last 1990's it was purportedly acquired for Telecommunications use (no references found).

Utility companies have been mindful, since the deregulation of Telecommunications in Australia, of their unique access to households/businesses and the commercial possibilities flowing from it. PowerTel, formed in 1998, was 31% owned by the "Downtown Utilities" consortium, EnergyAustralia, Citipower and Energex. They provided the local loop right-of-way to a potential 2.5M of their customers.

Transact, in 1999/2000, also leveraged this access from powerlines to roll-out its network.

Rail corridors have also been used (extensively?) to lay optical fibre cheaply. A very brief sample:
Reef Networks' $45/m cost is well under the NBN's estimated ducting only costs of $60-$150/m.

The various Gas Networks should've been aware of the these options and had the opportunity to leverage their extensive pipe network upgrades and additions into both long-distance and local-loop Telecommunications networks. Only in one town, Cooma, did a third party partner with them to lay empty conduit/pipe when the reticulation network was constructed. The marginal cost of laying another pipe in the same trench was minor.

This oversight has massive implications now with the (A$43Bn) NBN roll-out.
Not only would those utilities have an additional on-going revenue renting duct access, it would've made the NBN roll-out much cheaper, easier and faster. Nobody wants their street dug up one more time.

The shareholders can't be happy with their boards either. The real loss was in National strategic and commercial competitiveness. A lack of vision and execution by the responsible regulators has cost the country dearly.

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