NBN cost blowout fails to fix WA digital divide

Published on Mon 6 September 2021 2:26pm

The latest NBN performance report and addition of suburbs listed for upgrade from copper to fibre still leaves WA short-changed, with the Morrison-Joyce government refusing to prioritise the state that has been lumped with the highest proportion of the worst NBN technology.

In its report, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) noted that FTTN connections “are still not performing as well as other network connections” and that “retailers and NBN Co need collectively to do more.”

Western Australia was lumped with the highest proportion of copper FTTN connections, half as much again Victoria and NSW.

After years of costly denial, the Morrison-Joyce government has finally accepted Labor’s original position that the NBN should be delivered through fibre not copper. Sadly, the cost of fixing its multi-technology mess has now blown out the NBN price-tag to $57 billion, and is creating an ever-widening digital divide.

It’s about time that the Morrison-Joyce Government fixed the digital divide in the largest and most remote state by bringing WA to the top of the fibre upgrade list. Suburbs selected for the FTTN to FTTP are chosen “based on areas where the company anticipates strong demand for higher speeds; where it can provide maximum benefit to the most customers; where it can deploy with speed and agility, and where its multi-billion dollar investment is most likely to spread and multiply economic activity across the nation.”

As consumers on the highest tier ‘ultrafast’ plans experience record high speeds, those left on Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) – 60 per cent of WA premises – are being moved to lower plan speeds.

Moving customers who are not achieving expected speeds with their FTTN service to lower speed plans may well have reduced the incidence of under-performance. This doesn’t help frustrated customers, but it does allow NBNCo to claim improvement in service.

Atwell, Fremantle, White Gum Valley, and parts of Beaconsfield are amongst the 24 WA suburbs NBNCo has added to the fibre upgrade rollout plan that promises to deliver fibre service to two million premises by 2023.

The same ‘by 2023’ promise also applies to suburbs previously listed for upgrade in October 2020, and February and May 2021.

How can the public have faith that they will be able to access fibre NBN by the 2023 deadline when NBNCo just keeps announcing more suburbs, hides its upgrade rollout progress, and reserves the right to change locations targeted for upgrade at any time?

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