For Australian renters, fighting with the landlord might take on a new dimension as the National Broadband Network (NBN) rolls out, unless NBN Co does something about it.
In first release sites for the NBN, the company went out and sought the consent of property owners to have the fibre rolled up to their door, with take-up rates varying from around 52 per cent in Brunswick, up to around 90 per cent in Armidale.
With the Telstra $11 billion deal all but completed (pending the outcome of shareholder votes), meaning that the copper network would be decommissioned as the NBN rolls out, NBN Co and the government are more relaxed about this process now. NBN Co told ZDNet Australia earlier this week that soon it will only install fibre to the premise when someone requests to get a phone or an internet service on the NBN from their retailer.
"A line and Network Termination Device will only be installed at the premise once a service order has been received from the [retail service providers], and after they have competed for and sold their services to end users once a geographic area has 'gone live'," NBN Co said.
What this means is, as the NBN rolls out to a particular area, telcos like Telstra, Optus, iiNet and Internode will have to get in contact with their existing customers, and let them know that if they want to keep their fixed-line internet or phone service, they'll have to switch over to the NBN within around 18 months. If the customer opts not to have the fibre connected, they will "go wireless", as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said recently.
In light of the Telstra deal, this new method is definitely the most efficient way to ensure that everyone who wants fibre gets it. Except for the 28.5 per cent of Australians who rent.
One of the reasons that NBN Co said the take-up rate in Brunswick was 52 per cent was difficulty with getting approval from landlords for rental properties. Under NBN Co's revised consent plan, renters would still need to get approval from the landlord in order to connect a service, although the company said it is "planning to make this process easier".
Landlord and tenant disputes can fill up hours of current affairs tabloid television at the best of times, and I can only imagine how frustrating it will be as a renter to be sitting on your ADSL2+ service on the copper network, and keen to switch over to NBN services, only to be told that your landlord has decided that they don't want the free NBN fibre for your premises, so you'll have to go without fixed-line internet when the copper is finally switched off.
This is a worst-case scenario, and I would imagine that most tenants, given the choice, would opt to move out in such a situation, leaving the landlord to advertise a property to rent that has no means of connecting to the internet. Everyone loses.
That prospect alone might be enough to convince landlords that fibre is a worthwhile investment they don't have to pay for, but given the reluctance of landlords in Brunswick to have the fibre installed, NBN Co faces a difficult situation.
The simplest solution would be for the states to legislate the opt-out alternative that Tasmania has implemented, and Victoria looked at before backing out once the Liberal Party got into power in the state. The Telstra deal means that the NBN fibre deployment becomes less about rolling out a new network, and more about replacing the copper with fibre. It just makes sense that everyone should get the fibre unless they specifically request not to.
Until some sort of bypass is found, the roll-out of the NBN is only going to fuel tensions between landlords and renters.