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NBN will be outdated before rollout is complete: ACT government

The ACT government has labelled NBN's FttN technology 'substandard', and said that large swathes of the network will be outdated before the rollout is even complete.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor on

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) will be outdated before the rollout is even complete thanks to the company using fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network technology, according to the Australian Capital Territory government.

Speaking in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the ACT government said NBN should be deploying fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) infrastructure, pointing out that this is the preferred technology in New Zealand, France, Canada, and urban China -- and even in developing nations including Indonesia, India, Brazil, and South Africa.

"The current FttN infrastructure model will not deliver a sufficient platform for future economic development and expansion, and I urge the government to reconsider the value of investing in substandard infrastructure," the ACT government's submission said.

"Australia's current FttN approach will see a significant proportion of NBN technology considered outdated before installation has been completed.

"It is the position of the ACT government that the current FttN infrastructure model will not deliver a sufficient platform for future economic development and expansion, and urge the government to reconsider the value of investing in substandard infrastructure."

Under NBN's 2017 corporate plan, between 5.1 million and 6.5 million, or 43 to 54 percent of the Australian population, will be covered by FttN, fibre to the basement (FttB), or fibre to the distribution point (FttDP), while just 2 million to 2.5 million, or 17 to 21 percent, will receive FttP.

The ACT government also took issue with NBN's rollout schedule, which it claimed "is not best suited to meet the needs of our community", as it is simply duplicating the already existing FttN TransACT network across Canberra rather than prioritising suburbs that only have access to slow-speed ADSL.

Such a process will result in already technologically disadvantaged areas becoming more so, and increasing the socio-economic gap, the ACT government argued.

"There are concerns that the current NBN rollout schedule for Canberra does not adequately address the needs of the most technologically disadvantaged areas," its submission said.

"Parts of Canberra that receive internet speeds of less than 2Mbps are yet to appear on NBN's rollout schedule."

The ACT government added that the NBN is a "clear priority for Canberrans" considering their uptake rate is the highest in the nation, at 60 percent, and wrote to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield in December requesting that the NBN be prioritised in areas most needing it.

Fifield responded by saying this is already the policy, the ACT government revealed -- but that the federal government had "reprioritised" Canberra because it was judged to be one of the areas least needing updated broadband.

The ACT government has recommended that in addition to FttP being deployed, the NBN be prioritised in the ACT suburbs of Gowrie, Kambah, Wanniassa, Banks, Monash, Calwell, Bonython, and Duffy.

In another submission to the NBN joint standing committee published on Friday, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) reiterated its position that NBN's satellite technology is unsuitable for telehealth due to the slow speeds and low data caps.

"Country Australians must have access to NBN services that enable them to conduct the same level of business via the internet as their city counterparts. These NBN services must also have the capacity to meet their future internet needs. This is particularly important for providers of vital health services. Data allowances and speeds must be sufficient to enable two-way applications for eHealth and telehealth (including the transfer of high resolution medical images), medical education, videoconferencing, VoIP, and other applications," the AMA said in its submission published on Friday.

"However, it is widely acknowledged that there are significant cost, data allowance, and speed differences between fixed and satellite broadband services, putting some regional and remote areas at a significant disadvantage.

"The limitations in the roll out of satellite technology by NBN, particularly the smaller data allowances and higher costs relative to other technologies, are considerable impediments to the take-up of the NBN in regional, rural, and remote areas."

NBN has consequently said it is working on a method to identify general practices and medical facilities as being "public interest premises" (PIPs) within the satellite footprint, which would then be given higher data allowances, the AMA noted.

"This is a small step in the right direction, but the AMA remains concerned that, even as PIPs, these medical facilities will still not have sufficient data allowance to be able to fully utilise the ehealth and telehealth opportunities that are taken for granted in metropolitan areas," the AMA said.

Instead, the fixed-wireless and fibre footprints should be extended to rural and regional areas, the AMA recommended, because while the Sky Muster satellite service has a Fair Use Policy that caps customers from using more than 150GB per month -- separated into 75GB off peak and 75GB on peak -- with 50GB extra for distance education students and a top download speed of 25Mbps, the fixed-wireless service will begin providing speeds of 100Mbps next year with no cap on data usage.

Earlier this month, the Northern Territory government also recommended that NBN expand fixed-wireless services into the satellite footprint in its submission to the NBN joint standing committee, criticising the installation delays, service dropouts, usage caps, and the fact that NBN is linking up rural residents to satellite services even where towns have existing fixed-line communications infrastructure.

The territory's government said the "idiosyncratic nature" of satellite services also renders the delivery of some online applications costly and impossible to ensure, while the high latency makes voice communications not viable, both of which result in limiting business growth within the region.

"The nature of extreme weather conditions common within the Northern Territory, especially in the coastal regions, makes satellite unreliable due to rain fade and loss of signal," the submission added.

"In a natural disaster satellite communications are likely to fail precisely at the time a community needs them the most."

In January, NBN revealed that there had been 31,007 reschedules of Sky Muster service installations between April, when services were launched, until October, caused mainly by technician issues, customer issues, weather, network issues, and non-standard installations, with 18 premises visited by a technician unable to establish satellite line of sight.

The order lead time for services averaged 20 business days between May and October 2016, while the average closure time for complaints was 21.4 days during October last year.

NBN said that there had been 520 complaints between April and October: 21 in the Northern Territory; 206 in New South Wales; 103 in Queensland; 94 in Victoria; 42 in Western Australia; 31 in Tasmania; and 23 in South Australia.

NBN said in October that the issue with connecting users to its Sky Muster satellite service had been resolved, with a software upgrade that "didn't go to plan" to blame.

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