The government's own Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee has expressed disappointment with the government's decision not to extend the National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre to 100 per cent of Australian premises, warning the decision will continue inequity of services.
"The committee is quite disappointed with the interpretation of the government's underlying broadband policy objectives, the current lack of clarity on retail pricing in relation to the seven per cent non-fibre premises and this entrenched inequity for those seven per cent," Committee member Mark Needham told a Parliamentary inquiry on the NBN in Brisbane this morning. "These deficiencies will continue to challenge the adequacy of telecommunication services in rural and remote Australia."
The committee was established by the Federal Government in 2007 to investigate how best to improve telecommunications services in regional and remote Australia. Needham said that there had been little action on the committee's recommendations since it handed its report to the government back in 2008.
"To date, there has been very little significant improvement in all aspects of telecommunications," he said.
He said the government has yet to address the issue of providing fibre backhaul into regional and remote areas, which would address a lot of the problems with inequity of speed and service.
Needham suggested that some of the $400 million provided to the committee to spend on regional broadband should be used to fund bringing fibre to regional and remote communities not included in the 93 per cent coverage.
"There is a definite problem in relation to the availability of NBN backhaul to rural and remote locations. I think many people would like to have fibre to their community at least as a start before even considering fibre to the residences," he said. "In not having fibre to the community to begin with is a very significant issue."
"There is considerable debate at the moment whether towns of a significant size will have the ability to access the service from the fibre that goes past their community. So again even though we've seen the stats about how many it will benefit, having access to the fibre that goes past their community would make it far better for a lot more."
Needham highlighted that laws surrounding the NBN allows groups such as communities to pay NBN Co to install fibre into certain areas but he said it was unclear whether NBN Co would then own the fibre that the groups had paid for.
"Hopefully those things will be explained in better detail as time goes on," he said.
He was concerned that regional residents might find themselves moving onto a wireless or satellite service that is worse than what they are receiving over current communications infrastructure.
"Is the NBN service in those areas in a waste of money? In that it hasn't been engineered to deliver the outcomes that are necessary at an appropriate price using the appropriate technology. The stifling of competition in relation to the seven per cent is a concern."
Needham added that it would be alarming for some residents to be stuck with wireless or satellite services on the NBN while neighbours only a kilometre away would get fibre services.