NBN Co has struggled to drive opt-ins to the National Broadband Network in Brunswick, Victoria, because it has to rely on local authorities to provide property owners with consent forms, the company has admitted.
With just 50 per cent of eligible premises having opted to be connected to the network, Brunswick, located just outside of the Melbourne CBD, has the lowest level of connections amongst first release sites.
However, NBN Co's principal of government relations and external affairs Mike Kaiser said the numbers didn't indicate that people in the area were against the project, just that the high number of rental properties in Brunswick made it tougher to organise consent.
"The process is tougher if there's a high proportion of renters because we can't accept consent from someone who's leasing or renting, we have to track down the owner," he said, adding that local authorities do have databases of the owners of properties in their area but aren't able to provide that directly to the company.
"Sometimes we're at the mercy of a local authority's willingness to send that consent form to [the owner]. Otherwise we're reliant on residents to pass that consent on to an owner," he said.
Kaiser said the government would also have to examine what it would do in the situation where an apartment owner consents but the body corporate denies the NBN Co access to the apartment building.
"It's a very frustrated resident who has had to opt out by virtue of lack of cooperation from body corporate," he said.
The company has also encountered language barrier issues, according to Kaiser.
"Brunswick is an area of very high ethnicity and we are encountering language issues from the area," he said. "Our consent process is not an easy thing to explain and it's made all the more difficult if you try to do it in Greek."
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said in a statement that these scenarios were some of the reasons it had advocated for an opt-out model for the NBN, such as that currently being legislated in Tasmania.
"The current approach underestimates the practical problems with seeking consent in the complex housing market which prevails in Australia today," ACCAN said, highlighting that customers would face additional costs to get onto the NBN if they didn't opt in as the network was rolling out.
Kaiser, however, said that NBN Co was agnostic about whether connection to the network should be opt-in or opt-out, because if the $11 billion Telstra deal goes through, Telstra will decommission its copper network and customers will have to have their houses connected if they want a fixed-line connection.
"Our position is driven by the thought that if we can consummate the Telstra deal and we're actually migrating people from one service to another because a network is being shut down, then [consent is] not going to be hard to get," he said. "We are in effect going to be saying to people 'your sole fixed-line service is being decommissioned and your only alternative, in most cases, for a fixed line service is NBN Co's service'."
"In those circumstances we become a bit sanguine about whether we need opt-out provisions."