We need a high quality & accessible NBN

Published on Tue 28 March 2017 4:09pm

Mr Wilson (4:09pm) — By the middle of this year the NBN rollout will be just short of the halfway mark. The rollout in my electorate of Fremantle is in progress and we are learning about some of the challenges and shortcomings as we go.

There are areas like Aubin Grove in my electorate which currently have no access to line broadband and where the quality of wireless connection is very poor to say the least. While I understand that a program as large and as varied as the rollout of the NBN has to proceed according to a range of considerations, it is difficult for people in Aubin Grove or parts of Hamilton Hill to watch areas that already enjoy ADSL broadband receive the NBN before they do. That is why, as a local member, I am committed to advocating for the rollout to occur in such areas as soon as possible. I thank the community of Aubin Grove for inviting me to meet with them and hear their understandable frustrations.

As the rollout proceeds, there are two emerging lessons. The first is that technology matters. In some cases households that previously had broadband through HFC rolled out by Telstra or Optus now find their NBN service is actually slower. In some areas the carrying capacity of the existing copper network is so weak that fibre-to-the-node is simply not able to deliver the minimum standard speeds. We know from NBN Co that consideration is being given to rolling out a greater proportion of fibre-to-the-curb, and I would suggest it needs to be more than a consideration going forward. The second lesson is that the creation of the NBN for access on a wholesale basis by the various retail service providers does not and will not magically dissolve the potential for old-fashioned buck-passing. Even with an effective NBN, it is still open for retailers to overpromise and underdeliver while seeking to blame the broadband shortfall on someone else.

Last Friday, as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, I found it helpful to hear from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and from the ACCC. The TIO explained to us that complaints related to broadband services are not broken down by technology type. I would suggest that this may need to be considered if we are to ensure that the NBN does not plough on in the delivery of technology that not only falls short of being futureproofed but actually fails to meet current standards. The last thing we need is for communities like Aubin Grove, who have waited too long for broadband already, to end up with a substandard service when it finally arrives.

The ACCC reiterated their view that government should support the creation of a broadband performance monitoring program. A successful trial was conducted in 2015, and the ACCC have been asking government to support a comprehensive and ongoing version ever since. Without that monitoring capacity it will be impossible to properly assess the quality of the NBN. It will be impossible to guard against and stamp down on the kind of buck-passing shenanigans we have seen in the past, especially from the retail telcos. The cost to establish and operate the ACCC’s proposed monitoring program for four years is estimated at $7 million. It would take three to four months to set up. There really is no time to waste, and I urge the government to support this program without delay.

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