Gillard to launch NBN Armidale tomorrow

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is set to flick on the switch for the National Broadband Network in Armidale tomorrow, officially launching the first services of the $35.9 billion project in the mainland.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is set to flick the switch for the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Armidale tomorrow, officially launching the first services for the mainland roll-out of the $35.9 billion project.

NBN Tasmania launch

The launch of Tasmanian NBN services (Credit: NBN Co)

ZDNet Australia understands that Gillard will be accompanied at the Armidale launch by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and independent MP Tony Windsor, whose electorate covers the regional town.

When he sided with the Labor party, in conjunction with fellow independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie, and along with Greens MP Adam Bandt, to form a minority government in 2010, Windsor cited the NBN as the key factor that moved him across the line.

The Armidale first release site covers some 2900 premises, and will be a critical test site for NBN services, as it has a 90 per cent opt-in rate — meaning that it has the highest percentage of residents opting in to have the fibre cable installed at any of the five first release sites.

NBN Co announced last month that 12 retail service providers (RSPs) had been signed up to offer services at the NBN trial site in Armidale: Optus, AAPT, AARNet, Comscentre, Nextgen Networks, Platform Networks, SkyMesh, Internode, iiNet, iPrimus, Exetel and Telstra. The latter five telcos already offer services at the NBN first release sites in Tasmania.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia subsequently announced that it has also signed on to provide NBN services at the first release site in Armidale, signalling a move for the traditionally mobile-based telco into the fixed-line market.

According to users on broadband enthusiast website Whirlpool, NBN Co began switching on services for some customers in Armidale quietly last month.

The launch will be held at the Presbyterian Ladies College in Armidale, ZDNet Australia understands.

It is expected that services in the other mainland first release sites in Kiama Downs, Townsville, Brunswick and Willunga will be switched on in the coming months.

Speaking at the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the NBN in Sydney yesterday, NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley said that since the start of NBN services at sites in Tasmania in August 2010, 723 customers have ordered services on the NBN, 712 of which had been connected. The total number of premises covered in the first release site is 5000, roughly 45 per cent of which opted to have the fibre installed.

Currently, RSPs in Tasmania are not being charged by NBN Co for the services they offer to customers at the NBN trial sites outside of a $300 once-off fee per premise connected to the NBN. Quigley said yesterday that he expects NBN Co to begin charging the RSPs for these services on 1 July.