By Tom Westbrook
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's government-built $36 billion broadband network, already under attack from underwhelmed customers, has found a new and formidable enemy - cockatoos are chewing through cables across the country.
Repairing the damage wrought on the broadband system, including replacing steel-braid wires that the pesky parrots have gnawed, has already cost A$80,000 ($61,500), network builder NBN Co said on Friday.
The company estimates the bill could rise sharply as more damage is uncovered and more cables are rolled out in the national telecommunications infrastructure project, which is not due to be completed until around 2021.
"They are constantly sharpening their beaks and as a result will attack and tear apart anything they come across," said NBN Co project manager Chedryian Bresland in a blog post on the company's website on Friday.
"Unfortunately, they've developed a liking to our cables ... these birds are unstoppable when in a swarm."
Yellow-crested cockatoos are prolific in Australia and well-known for their voracious appetites for everything from fruit crops to wooden window frames.
Much of the cable chomping has occurred in grain-growing regions in Australia's southeast.
"It would have to be an acquired taste, because it's not their usual style," Gisela Kaplan, a professor in animal behavior at the University of New England, told Reuters.
"Cockatoos usually go for wood, or strip the bark off trees, They don't usually go for cables. But it might be the color or the position of the cables that's attracted them," she said.
The broadband network itself has come under fire for poor service and slow speeds, with customer complaints spiking nearly 160 percent this year, according to government figures released last month.
Australia's average internet speed of 11.1 megabits per second ranks 50th in the world, according to the most recent State of the Internet report by Akamai Technologies, an IT company specializing in internet speed technology.
NBN Co is installing protective casing it says will protect the wires from birds in the future.
(Reporting by Paul Tait)