Coalition to continue wireless and satellite NBN rollout
The new federal government has committed to continuing the rollout of fixed wireless and satellite internet services under the NBN while a new board and strategic plan are developed.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government had issued an interim statement of expectations to NBN Co outlining operational activities for the immediate future until a new board can be selected and a strategic review and independent audit of the project is carried out.
Mr Turnbull said he expected the review to take 60 days after the new management is appointed, and in the meantime he had directed NBN Co to continue with the deployment of the wireless and satellite services, which are planned to provide high-speed broadband to regional and remote areas not covered under the previous government's fibre-to-the-home plan.
“We have advised that [NBN Co] should continue deploying the fixed wireless network but also take into account the likely availability of fixed line broadband technology via VDSL in smaller communities not currently in the fibre fixed line footprint,” Mr Turnbull said. “These are communities with less than 1000 premises.”
He also said the organisation should continue to offer broadband over the interim satellite service, and to continue the “work associated with the build and launch of the long-term satellites, to continue construction of the transit network and points of interconnect to continue the development of special services, enterprise services and so on, and to continue to deploy fibre to new development areas”.
The Coalition had promised before the election to continue Labor's plan to provide wireless to regional areas and to go ahead with the purchase of the two long-term satellites that are currently being built and are due for launch in 2015.
The long-term satellites in particular are seen as essential in improving health service provision to remote areas.
There are still concerns that people living in rural and remote areas not covered by fibre will be disadvantaged by the policy the Coalition took to the election, particularly by opening up the NBN to competition.
Labor's plan included a uniform national price that would see metropolitan users effectively subsidise the more expensive provision of high-speed broadband to regional areas with far fewer users.
The Coalition plans to impose a cap on prices so regional areas are not disadvantaged. However, several telecommunications experts and economists have said the announcement by TPG that it would provide fibre to the more profitable capital city apartment buildings showed regional users could end up paying more.
Writing in the Business Spectator on Monday, commentator Alan Kohler said that Labor's NBN plan was “a mechanism for city broadband users to subsidise regional areas.
“All Australians would be connected to fibre, fixed wireless or satellite and all would pay the same, no matter what the cost of connecting them. To drive that point home the NBN rollout began in rural Tasmania, the least profitable place to begin.”
He said if TPG and other competitors were able to claim the prized apartment buildings in the cities, then the Coalition's NBN “will simply be an unprofitable competitor on price in the cities and an unprofitable, supplier of fibre to the node services to rural Australia.”
Mr Turnbull said NBN Co had recently advised him that it is proposing to revise its rollout target for premises passed by fibre by June 30 next year down from the forecast made four months ago.
This is understood to be due to the well-publicised problems with the discovery of asbestos in some NBN construction sites.
Mr Turnbull also committed to ensuring the NBN Co considered different forms of technology than fibre.
“The interim statement provides NBN Co with the flexibility to use a wider range of technologies to connect businesses and homes to the network,” he said.
“For example, this will allow the NBN Co to trial the latest VDSL technology to deliver superfast broadband to homes and businesses in multi-dwelling units such as apartments and office blocks.
“A key priority will be to reduce the backlog of 66,000 premises passed by the NBN fibre network which cannot currently obtain a service. This includes the majority of apartments, schools and businesses in areas where the fibre network has been rolled out.
“Under the interim statement of expectations, construction will be completed in areas where 300,000 construction contracts have been signed. Detailed network design is underway in areas containing another 645,000 premises.
“In geographic areas where NBN Co is in a position to hand over final designs to its construction partners, some of these areas will see construction work begin shortly.
“There are also more than 900,000 premises listed on the one-year rollout plan on the NBN website where only preliminary network design work is underway. Decisions about actual construction in these areas will be taken after the reviews of the NBN rollout are completed.”
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