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NBN ‘all good’ – if you’re the minister

The Federal Government has declared the half-way point in the roll-out of the National Broadband Network.

Minister for Communications Senator Hon Mitch Fifield said at a press conference: “The NBN is now available to half of Australia. That’s ahead of schedule and ahead of budget. The NBN is now available to 5.7 million premises nationwide. 2.4 million premises have taken up that opportunity already. By the middle of next year NBN will be three quarters complete and will be done and dusted by 2020.”

There are, however, some questions remaining: why have only half of the eligible households connected to the NBN; what is the data and service quality; and indeed, why has NBN Co. spent $177m on copper wires to the end of the financial year – would it not have been better to replace the old technology with fibre, rather than repairing the old copper?

“Fibre to the node is a good product,” Minister Fifield retorted. “And an overwhelming majority of people on fibre to the node have a good experience. People on HFC have a good experience. People with fixed wireless have a good experience. People with satellite overwhelmingly having a good experience. This is a major project. There will obviously be a percentage of experiences in the rollout which aren’t perfect. But NBN is working day-by-day to improve that experience.”

Customers say otherwise

Connection rates are remaining slow and many customers are holding back in their allowed 18 months of connection time, unsure of the dependability of the NBN service.

A recent Choice survey reported that 76% of Australians on the NBN said they had a problem, mentioning slow speeds or disconnections/drop outs.

And if you have an NBN connection and would like to join the Choice project to monitor service provider broadband speeds, you can sign up to be part of the project, with CHOICE and Enex selecting participants based on postcode to ensure national coverage: www.choice.com.au/broadband.

Many existing users are reporting data drop-outs and extended waiting times for repairs and service, with one customer the Sydney Morning Herald talked to finding himself in “bureaucratic limbo” for four months between his service provider, the Telecommunications Ombudsman, ACCC and NBN, on a fault that took just 48 hours to fix once the newspaper got involved.

The NBN’s SkyMuster satellite service is equally – or even more – in the doldrums, and this writer can attest to the service going AWOL many times a day for no apparent reason and large file transfers (read 2MB or more) are cup-of-tea affairs. (I.e., once you press the button you have time to go and make a cup of tea – and drink it! – by the time it is downloaded.) Streaming movies, or even audio, are a subject for dreams.

While the Minister was not admitting it, NBN CEO Bill Morrow told Senate Estimates in June that the organisation is looking into improving the satellite service following widespread complaints about congestion and slow speeds.

Mr Morrow said several options are under consideration to improve the Sky Muster satellite service, including launching a third satellite, buying space on a third-party satellite, building more towers, or improving the connectivity technology on the two current satellites.

“[A third satellite] is one of the options that we are looking at to satisfy Minister Fifield and Minister Nash’s requests,” Mr Morrow said in June.

“We will look at enhancing the existing technology with the two satellites that are up there today; we will look at a third satellite to see if that’s feasible; we will look at other satellites that are third party that will be up in the sky that maybe we can leverage those satellites to get more capacity; we will look at getting some other towers to relieve the congestion of the satellite beams that are coming down.”

Renters can forget it

Whilst officially half of all Australian properties can access the NBN, this figure is reduced to a fraction when it comes to rental properties.

Rent.com.au has told ZDNet that only around one third of all its rental properties have access to the broadband network.

As of the end of June, NBN services were available at just 31 per cent of Rent’s rental premises in the Australian Capital Territory; 32 per cent in Victoria; 35 per cent in Queensland and Western Australia; 36 per cent in New South Wales; and 37 per cent in South Australia.

Only Tasmania and the Northern Territory – two of the earliest NBN rollout areas – at 80 per cent and 92 per cent, respectively, are above the one-third mark.

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