Fifield: 'Overwhelming' majority of NBN satellite experience has been positive

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has said 'people with satellite overwhelmingly are having a good experience' despite a high number of complaints, while NBN has also revealed spending AU$177 million on copper materials up to June.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has claimed that the majority of users on the National Broadband Network (NBN) satellite service have had a positive experience, with NBN also revealing that it has spent AU$177 million on copper materials to June 20.

"The NBN experience for a majority of people has been a good one," Fifield told journalists 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.

"This is a major project. There will obviously be a percentage of experiences in the rollout which aren't perfect, but NBN is working day by day to improve that experience."

Fifield's comments came in spite of NBN CEO Bill Morrow last month revealing that the company is looking into several options to improve its satellite connections after requests from both Fifield and Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash following widespread complaints about congestion and slow speeds.

Morrow said NBN is considering several options to improve the Sky Muster satellite service: Deploying a third satellite, piggybacking off a third-party satellite, building more towers, or improving the connectivity technology on its existing two satellites.

"[A third satellite] is one of the options that we are looking at to satisfy Minister Fifield and Minister Nash's requests," Morrow told Senate Estimates in June.

"We will look at enhancing the existing technology with the two satellites that are up there today; we will look at a third satellite to see if that's feasible; we will look at other satellites that are third party that will be up in the sky that maybe we can leverage those satellites to get more capacity; we will look at getting some other towers to relieve the congestion of the satellite beams that are coming down.

"There's nothing that is sacred here. We are looking at anything and everything that might be feasible to offer more capacity."

Sky Muster has been subject to widespread criticism, with the federal opposition party last month saying the satellite service should be subject to an independent expert review, as the installation issues, data caps, outages, and lack of transparency between NBN and its retail service providers (RSPs) need to be examined.

This was despite Labor being responsible for ordering NBN's two Ka-band satellites, which were labelled as unnecessary "Rolls-Royce" satellites by then-opposition communications leader Malcolm Turnbull, who has since revised his opinion to "world class".

According to satellite RSP Clear Networks, these complaints are exacerbated by the lack of information on connectivity issues given by NBN to RSPs, which leaves customers at the mercy of NBN's 10-day turnaround.

Under NBN's 2017 Corporate Plan, between 200,000 and 250,000 premises will receive a satellite connection, although 400,000 premises are eligible, with customers capped from using more than 150GB per month -- separated into 75GB off peak between 1am and 7am and 75GB on peak, with 50GB extra for distance education students, and has a maximum download speed of 25Mbps -- and on 25Mbps maximum speeds. From October, NBN expects it will be able to double the monthly wholesale data limit available to retailers, meaning most users should see increased data quotas.

Australia's states and territories have similarly criticised the satellite service, with the South Australian government saying Sky Muster should be a "last resort" because it is a form of geographical-based discrimination; the Queensland government arguing that use of "lower-grade" NBN services for those living in regional and remote areas of Australia is unacceptable and inequitable; and the Northern Territory government slamming the "technically inferior" satellite service.

NBN spends AU$177 million on copper

NBN also revealed in response to a Senate Estimates Question on Notice that it has spent AU$177.1 million on purchasing copper materials up to June 20, 2017.

"It is important to note that much of this material is used for new links between existing pillars and new nodes, rather than for remediation of existing copper," NBN explained.

Back in May, NBN had said it purchased 15,051km of copper cabling for the purpose of building out fibre-to-the-node (FttN) connections to some newly built premises -- far more than the 1,800km announced back in 2015.

"If there are [a] couple of new homes that are being built in an existing FttN neighbourhood, copper will be run to those because it does not make economic sense to put fibre in for just a couple of homes on a block of land that has been remodelled," Morrow had said during Senate Estimates.

"Under current modelling, approximately 8 percent of new developments would be served by FttN technology by 2022. These will largely be in-fill developments in established FttN areas," the company added in response to Questions on Notice.

NBN's main copper supplier has been Prysmian, with the company purchasing copper from Australia, Brazil, and Turkey.

At the time, NBN also revealed that a portion of its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network will be new cabling laid by NBN -- it will be in-filling almost 14 percent of the Telstra HFC network with newly laid cabling in order to fill gaps and degraded segments.

"The estimated percentages of new premises to be serviced within the HFC footprint is 13.9 percent," NBN said.

"The total purchase of copper will vary with final rollout technology mix, as each technology has unique characteristics that affect copper cable utilisation."

NBN on Monday announced passing the 50 percent rollout mark.

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