Decimal points are hard: NBN says regional rollout almost complete

Update: NBN has said just 4 percent of non-metro premises are currently in design, as opposed to the 44 percent previously stated.

Update at 2.43pm AEST, July 2: NBN has told ZDNet after publication that the 44 percent number it revealed was wrong, but ZDNet has yet to hear back on how wrong it is.

Correction at 3.10pm AEST, July 2: NBN has said only 4 percent of non-metro premises are currently in design, as opposed to the 44 percent previously stated. Article was originally headlined "NBN says regional rollout almost complete, but 44 percent still in design" but has been changed.

The National Broadband Network (NBN) company has announced that its regional rollout is almost complete, with work at 99.92 percent of these premises under way bar "remote offshore islands, complex rural sites, and some government premises".

According to an NBN spokesperson, however, 44.42 percent of non-metro premises are currently in the phase known as "in design". The spokesperson later amended this statement to say just 4.8 percent are in design, 10.6 percent in construction, and 84.6 percent are able to order a service.

On average, the spokesperson said it takes between nine and 12 months to move from being in design to being able to connect.

NBN also claimed Australia is now ranked 17th across OECD nations for internet "equality". This is up from 29th back in 2012, with Australia predicted to be ranked 10th as of 2021, according to a report by AlphaBeta commissioned by NBN.

"We have seen a massive improvement in regional internet access, with our wholesale broadband services offering more competition, faster speeds, and even giving some Australians internet access for the first time," outgoing NBN CEO Bill Morrow said.

"Our research shows that this connectivity revolution is spurring rapid growth in the digital economy and regional businesses, which may lead to further migration away from cities to regional hotspots. For example, we have seen Newcastle diversify itself from a focus on steel to tech startups and similar pivots in mining towns like Ballarat."

Contrary to Morrow's assertions, however, the BHP-owned Newcastle steelworks shut in 1999 -- a full decade before the majority fibre-to-the-premises NBN was announced by the Rudd Labor government -- during which time the city had an unemployment rate sitting 4 percent above the Australian average, and its economy was forced to diversify.

Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie called the announcement a "huge milestone", saying economic benefits are already being seen in rural areas.

"We have already seen 1,750 additional jobs created in the regions," McKenzie said. "This new technology will enable more businesses to make the move out of the cities and into our rural towns and communities.

"This new infrastructure will enable those living in regional areas to participate in the digital economy and conduct business, as well as access important education and health services across the country."

Concerns about NBN's regional network technologies remain, however, with the Northern Territory earlier this year repeating its complaints about the "underlying issues" of satellite connectivity.

Instead of waiting for better services from NBN, the NT government said it is relying on its own AU$30 million co-investment program with Telstra to deliver mobile and fixed coverage to 17 remote communities.

The territory government said it has also been lobbying both NBN and the federal government to make use of the existing fibre-optic infrastructure in 39 NT communities "rather than the technically inferior satellite solution".

Morrow has previously told ZDNet that NBN is "closely" watching improvements in satellite technology and capacity, including 1Tbps satellites being built by others, as well as deploying a third satellite or moving more satellite users to the fixed-wireless network.

The company's fixed-wireless service, meanwhile, is facing congestion complaints, with NBN forced to can its plans to offer 100Mbps services while it remediates 3Mbps cells and considers throttling "extreme" users.

Morrow on Monday conceded that "there is still work to be done alongside industry in order to continually improve the customer experience of people who connect to the NBN".

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