NBN inequity separates 'haves' and 'have nots': Devonport Council

FttN 'appears to have failed the end user', Devonport City Council has said, warning that NBN's multi-technology mix model will widen regional gaps by providing slower-speed broadband to rural areas.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Devonport City Council has accused Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) of separating the "haves" and the "have nots" across Tasmania in terms of high-speed internet access.

In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, Devonport City Council said the NBN's multi-technology mix "will create a multi-speed economy" in Tasmania due to the disparity between fibre to the node (FttN) and fibre to the premises (FttP).

"40 percent of Tasmania, around 76,000 premises, will be linked via FttN, with a large percentage being on the North-West Coast, which has historically suffered from poor levels of high-speed broadband," Devonport Council said.

"FttN will be utilising the existing copper cable telephony network, which apparently is nearing end of life."

Originally, NBN's FttP rollout across Tasmania was planned to reach Smithton, Scottsdale, and Midway Point in the first stage; Deloraine, Georgetown, St Helens, Triabunna, Sorell, South Hobart, and Kingston Beach in the second stage; and Burnie, Devonport, Launceston, and Hobart in the third stage.

Upon the election of the Coalition government in 2013, much of Tasmania was subsequently shifted over to slower-speed satellite and fixed-wireless connections; however, the fallout from this saw both major parties campaign on fibre connectivity for Western Tasmania in the lead-up to last year's federal election.

In June, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced that the Coalition would spend AU$18.5 million on replacing satellite coverage for over 2,700 premises in Tasmania with FttN in Queenstown, Rosebery, and Zeehan, and fixed-wireless for Strahan in mid-2017.

According to the submission by Devonport City Council, however, FttN is still not adequate; without FttP, the region will have lower-quality education and health services, carrying the risk of businesses choosing to relocate to better-served areas, it said. The council also pointed towards a loss of opportunities for employment and vocational training.

"Our region continues to try and lift itself up, continually battling chronic illness; reliance on social welfare; high poverty rates; high unemployment especially in the area of youth," the council said.

"Now we battle the inequity of the NBN rollout. The NBN FttP presented an opportunity to increase our human capital-skilled workforce; provide opportunities for businesses; attract further investment; stability; increase community wealth; as well as address social issues.

"Whilst FttN might be an efficient, fast, and cost-effective way to build the NBN network, it appears to have failed the end user. Having different models operating at different populated centres will only widen regional gaps."

Similarly, the Queensland government's submission to the NBN joint standing committee said that the 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 slammed NBN's "technically inferior" satellite service.

Fifield has previously pointed out that NBN's technology choice program already provides a "fibre option" for those living in regional Tasmania, which offers an FttP alternative if they pay an application fee, a field quote fee, and then the cost of installing the fibre, which NBN said could average AU$4,300 per premises.

"In north-west Tasmania, local calls for fixed-line broadband are already being considered through NBN's existing technology choice policy," Fifield argued last year.

One Tasmanian council did consider the option last year; however, it then declined to upgrade two regions from FttN to FttP due to the cost, adding it would also be requesting a refund on the AU$10,000 fee it was charged by NBN for the analysis.

NBN's estimate for the Tasmanian council had said that between AU$2.75 million and AU$3.3 million would be needed to upgrade the Westbury and Hagley region, and that it would cost AU$2.2 million to AU$2.75 million to upgrade Hadspen and Travellers Rest.

NBN earlier this year revealed in response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice that the highest individual quote provided for an FttN-to-FttP switch was AU$61,600, with the average cost for those who have been provided with a build quote standing at AU$15,800.

The highest number of applications from consumers wanting to change technologies has come from FttN users: 198 of the 221 individual premises switch applications received by NBN as of March 23 were FttN users wanting to change to FttP, with 81 individual switch quotes then supplied to these users.

Of the total 221 individual switch applications, 113 customers have received quotes, four of which were in Tasmania.

NBN added in May that one of the 15 technology choice customers previously mentioned was located in Deloraine, Tasmania.

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