Western Australia invests AU$5m in regional broadband for agritech

WA's Digital Farm initiative will provide broadband to 41,000 square kilometres across the Kimberley, Mid-West, Wheatbelt, Peel, Great Southern, and South-West regions with a total funding envelope of AU$5 million.

The Western Australia government has announced that it will be investing AU$1 million in broadband for the Kununurra and the Ord River Irrigation Area under its Digital Farm Grants.

Two networks will be rolled out to provide coverage to 40 farms over 1,700 square kilometres in the East Kimberley region, with the state government saying the area is "not adequately serviced by the NBN fixed-wireless and fixed-line footprint".

"The new network will provide a fast, reliable, digital service to agricultural businesses in Kununurra, the industrial area, and the southern and central parts of the Ord River farmland," the Western Australia government said.

The state's Digital Farm initiative is aiming to provide broadband to over 41,000 square kilometres and 1,240 businesses across the Kimberley, Mid-West, Wheatbelt, Peel, Great Southern, and South-West regions with a total funding envelope of AU$5 million under the first round.

"This new digital network will help to drive agricultural productivity and expansion in the Ord, and will provide existing growers with a competitive edge in a global market," Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said.

"This grant will initially provide coverage to around 40 businesses along the Ord -- including large-scale, high-intensity horticultural properties -- and we expect uptake will increase as the Ord continues to grow."

In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee Enquiry into the National Broadband Network (NBN)'s regional and rural rollout, the WA government had argued that 25Mbps is no longer considered fast, and that NBN should increase its mandated minimum peak speed to 100Mbps.

The state also called for NBN's connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charge to be removed.

"Much of the existing NBN fixed-line network is currently artificially-constrained where there is often vast capacity available and unused," the submission said.

"This constraint is imposed, primarily by the NBN Co CVC pricing model, which makes access to available capacity over-costly to service providers who are in turn unable to supply sufficient capacity to users in regional Western Australia and still make a profit. Consequently, in many parts of the regional network, a vast quantity of wholesale capacity goes unused simply because it costs too much."

The joint standing committee earlier this week published its second report looking into the regional and rural rollout, saying it is a "matter of urgency" that the NBN release its business-grade satellite product.

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 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.

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