Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has said that the failure to provision enough capacity on the interim satellite service to meet the needs of its 44,000 customers highlights the importance of planning for future constraints, and the need for fibre to the premieses.
Yesterday Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the government would spend AU$34 million fixing up capacity problems for the 44,000 premises on the interim satellite services provided through NBN Co by IPStar and Optus, and subsidising an additional 9,000 premises to access commercial satellite services ahead of the launch of NBN Co's own satellites in the second half of 2015.
The former Labor government set up the interim satellite service in 2011 for AU$351 million to replace the former Howard government Australian Broadband Guarantee subsidisation program, but demand for the service far outweighed the capacity NBN Co purchased as a stop-gap measure before the launch of its own Ka-band satellites.
NBN Co was forced to stop accepting new customers onto the satellite service late last year, and larger data plans from retail service providers such as iiNet were removed because capacity on the service was so limited that some customers reported download speeds slower than dial-up on the service.
Speaking on Sky News yesterday, Clare said Turnbull had been "whinging" about the problem for the last seven months without fixing it, but welcomed the announcement to add extra capacity.
As NBN Co moves ahead with plans to trial fibre to the node technology for 20 nodes connecting up to 400 premises, Clare said that the former Labor government's underestimation of the need for the satellite service in regional Australia shows how much the rest of the country will need fibre to the premises.
"I think they underestimated demand and the same will be true of the NBN right across the country, that's why you build it with fibre not with copper," he said. "You've got to build a network that's going to meet the needs of Australians, not for five years but for the next century and that I think is the crucial mistake I think this government is making."
Clare said that Labor would need to see how much of the NBN had changed in the next two years, but said that the party continues to see fibre as being "the end game".
"We'll need to see how much this government has wrecked between now and the next election but if we're going to compete with the rest of the world then Australians are going to need infrastructure to set them up, not for five years but for the next century," he said.
Clare said the Western Australian senate election this weekend is a "rare opportunity" for voters to send a message to the government that its NBN promises were "a lie".
Turnbull yesterday said that NBN Co's wireless and satellite operations had "some very serious problems", and a review of the operations would be released next week. Industry has speculated that NBN Co will sell off the two long-term satellites to the private sector to lease back to NBN Co.