Western Australia gives up trying to talk to NBN

Government agencies in Western Australia now engage with NBN only when they must, as it is difficult to get information on the network.

If you thought NBN was opaque, confused, and not very helpful at all, then you are not alone, as the Western Australian government agrees with this assessment.

Writing in a submission [PDF] to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the WA government said its Office of the Government Chief Information Officer had attempted to work with NBN on a number of occasions, but received responses it described as opaque.

"As a result of less than ideal engagement with Western Australia, the NBN rollout has progressed in a patchwork and inconsistent manner, often with poor performance, and low levels of sign-up for NBN services as a result," it said.

The government said its agencies reported difficulty in getting any information out of NBN coupled with "lengthy delays", poor support, and confusion on when sites would be ready.

The WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services told the state government it had seen a doubling of the cost of monitored alarms service due to NBN installs, and communication problems between NBN and retailers.

"These kinds of frustrations have a direct impact on service delivery, which for the cited examples frequently involves life and death situations," the submission said. "Receiving and responding to triggered alarms and ensuring communications between front line health services are not optional extras, they are critical components of agencies' operations."

"If Western Australian agencies are unable to guarantee reliable connections for their services through the NBN, the lives of Western Australians are potentially at risk."

The relationship between NBN and the WA agencies had reached a point where talking to NBN was being avoided, the government said.

"NBN Co's low level of engagement in the preparation for rollout, unavailability -- both directly, and via RSPs -- and poor coordination with state-level service delivery is costing WA agencies time and money," the government said.

"Agencies now report that they are reticent to engage with NBN unless strictly necessary -- this despite expressing a clear need for reliable, high speed connectivity for their services."

In response, NBN said it had been working "proactively" since 2010 with the medical alarm industry.

"Most security alarm providers now have solutions in place, which in many cases is a relatively inexpensive converter box for the alarm that allows it to dial out over the mobile network instead of the landline network," a spokesperson said.

"A medical alarm subsidy scheme is operated through monitored medical alarm service providers and supports monitored medical alarms that comply with the relevant Australian Standard and help people transition to the NBN network, generally through replacing their existing Australian Standard AS4607 compliant monitored medical alarm with a new unit that does not rely solely on a fixed-line connection."

NBN recently told a Senate Estimates committee that its AU$100 million budget for the alarm subsidy scheme had recently been reduced to AU$72 million due to changes in services, and had spent AU$33 million to the end of March.

The company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network across Australia said it was more than happy to "continue engaging" with any state government agency, and had held briefings including them in the last month.

"NBN has held a comprehensive and proactive engagement program with every State and Territory-based Emergency Management team to ensure they fully understand the capabilities and the limitations of the NBN especially during a power blackout," NBN said.

Last week, the federal government touted that the NBN rollout had reached the halfway point, however a survey from Rent.com.au said the NBN was only available at one third of properties.

"The rollout of the National Broadband Network has surpassed the halfway mark ahead of schedule and ahead of budget, meaning more than 50 percent of Australian homes and businesses can now access fast, affordable high-speed broadband," Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said at the time.

"The rollout remains on track and will be available to every home and business across Australia by 2020."

Fifield also claimed last week the majority of NBN users across all technologies have had a positive experience.

"The NBN experience for a majority of people has been a good one," Fifield told media on Monday morning.

"Fibre to the node is a good product, and an overwhelming majority of people on fibre to the node have a good experience. People on HFC have a good experience; people with fixed-wireless have a good experience; people with satellite overwhelmingly are having a good experience."

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