NBN satellite business plan 'a matter of urgency': Joint committee

NBN should introduce its business-grade satellite project, address fixed-wireless congestion, and update its regional broadband levy amounts before passing legislation, the joint standing committee has recommended.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

It is a "matter of urgency" that the National Broadband Network (NBN) company release its business-grade satellite product, the Joint Standing Committee has said in its second report looking into the regional and rural rollout.

"The committee notes that NBN has yet to deliver the Sky Muster Business Enterprise Plans sought by large regional and rural agribusinesses, which was promised for December 2017," the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network: The rollout of the NBN in rural and regional areas 2nd Report of the 45th Parliament said.

"The committee recommends NBN address the release of these plans as a matter of urgency."

In total, the report published on Monday afternoon, made 20 recommendations, with the first swathe dealing with the Sky Muster satellite service.

The first recommendation was that NBN "materially expand" its layer 3 capabilities for the better utilisation of its satellite capacity and to increase satellite monthly data allowances significantly -- which follows NBN last week announcing that it would be uncapping usage across email, web browsing, internet banking, and critical software updates.

The committee also recommended that NBN work with retailers to promote Sky Muster uptake, and that the government provide data on how many premises with ADSL connections are within the Sky Muster footprint.

The report follows NBN last month flagging that it would have further details on its wholesale business-grade satellite service in the next few months.

The satellite is targeted at agricultural businesses along with the oil, mining, and gas industries, NBN said. The service will make use of underutilised spectrum from its existing satellites when it launches its two wholesale category products in the first half of next year.

Across NBN's other regional and rural broadband offering, fixed-wireless, the joint standing committee then made 12 recommendations, including recommendations to provide better information for how it decides between designating premises as being satellite or fixed-wireless, and how users can move from one to the other.

The joint committee is also concerned about congestion across the fixed-wireless network, including to move away from using the same wholesale product tiers that "deliver sub-optimal outcomes for consumers", after NBN amended its network design rules in July to reduce the number of premises able to connect to each fixed-wireless cell, as well as updating the maximum bandwidth capacity available.

"The committee recommends that NBN in consultation with RSPs, develops a policy to govern the addition of new customer sign-ups on highly congested fixed-wireless cells," the report added.

To reduce congestion, it also suggested that NBN expand its layer 3 capabilities to improve utilisation of fixed-wireless capacity; look into using existing fibre backhaul; report publicly on the number of fixed-wireless cells that don't meet the 6Mbps metric; provide retailers with information on congested locations and advice on its proposed remedial programs; and ensure the upcoming 3.6GHz 5G spectrum auction does not disadvantage regional Australians.

The report also recommended that NBN should also work with the Northern Territory government and Telstra on utilising existing optic fibre to expand both fixed-wireless and fixed-line networks.

"It is of concern to the committee that existing fibre infrastructure has not been mapped in all states. Better mapping of existing infrastructure will be useful for considering how to improve regional connectivity in the future," it said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the government should also look into whether to audit existing fibre infrastructure across the nation and make the geospatial data public "where it does not compromise national security or other legitimate interests".

Geospatial data should also be made publicly available on map.gov.au for each network footprint.

Lastly, the committee recommended that the government update its Regional Broadband Scheme (RBS) -- the rural broadband tax -- levy amount within two weeks, and to pass the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2018 and amend the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2018 "in recognition that the RBS levy does not constitute a sustainable funding mechanism, and is better repurposed as a level playing field competition measure".

In response to the report, the opposition Labor party noted the "deterioration" of the fixed-wireless network due to congestion.

"The regrettable decision by NBN Co to reduce its fixed-line footprint and instead over-subscribe the fixed-wireless network has compounded this problem, leaving regional Australians worse off in the short-term, and taxpayers worse off over the medium-term," a joint statement by Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones and joint standing committee deputy chair Josh Wilson said.

The joint standing committee had announced in February that after completing its initial report last year, it would be holding inquiries into NBN's business case as well as its rollout in regional and rural Australia.

In September, it then said it needed more time to consider the inquiry after receiving multiple submissions -- including from state and territory governments and retail service providers -- and holding public hearings across the nation.

The original joint standing committee NBN inquiry had in September 2017 recommended that NBN connect as many premises with its fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) and FttP networks as possible, with its final report making 23 recommendations in total.

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