Malcolm Turnbull was all smiles at the Faceboat campaign launch for Sailors with disABILITIES at Darling Point on Sunday.
The condition of millions of copper wires the Coalition will rely on to deliver its broadband policy is unknown, and it will take months to uncover how many are functional and how many are beyond use.
Telstra has never revealed how much it spends maintaining the network each year and its own descriptions of the life span range from three to 100 years.
The state of the customer access network, as it is known, directly affects the cost and speed of implementing the proposed fibre-to-the-node network because unusable sections of copper must be repaired or replaced with fibre.
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
Fault rates have increased in the past seven years from about 13 per cent in 2006-07 to 18 per cent, or 1 million faults, in 2011-12, according to figures published by the communications regulator.
However, a spokesman for the expected incoming communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said copper maintenance costs were not cited by any telco in the world as a reason to replace wires with a full fibre network, and the most common cause of faults was accidental digging through phone lines.
''In areas where the [network] is deployed using fibre to the node, the most error-prone parts of the copper - the large bundles running between nodes and exchanges - will be replaced by fibre,'' he said.
''The Coalition forecasts also build in a budget for copper remediation, which is often part of a fibre to the node rollout.''
He said maintenance costs were expected to be lower under the Coalition's policy than NBN Co's fibre-to-the-home model.
About 71 per cent of premises in Australia would get a node-based broadband service on their existing copper connection under the Coalition's proposal, but that figure may change depending on the copper's reliability.
Telstra has given inconsistent messages about the longevity of its network. Chief executive David Thodey said earlier this year ''the copper has been going well for a hundred years. I think it will keep going for another hundred.''
But in 2003 Telstra's then group managing director of regulatory strategy, Tony Warren, told a Senate committee the copper was ''at five minutes to midnight'' and would last up to 15 years.
Mr Warren now leads the team renegotiating Telstra's multibillion-dollar deal with the government, under which the Coalition hopes it can take ownership of the customer access network.
The Coalition wants NBN Co to provide within 60 days an estimate of how much it would cost to change to a fibre-to-the-node network, and wants the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to provide within 90 days a list of broadband quality in all areas of Australia. Both tasks require detailed knowledge of the state of the copper network.
Blogger, former Telstra technician and pro-fibre advocate Kieran Cummings said no one knew how much copper remediation would be needed to get faster speeds on a fibre-to-the-node network.
''We are talking about 10 millions [copper] lines, times four. That's what we have to test to know the quality of everything in the network, because that is how much copper they have put in the ground. You can't audit a network that big,'' he said.