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Second-rate NBN isolates people everywhere

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Truly terrible broadband is depriving people of work opportunities and isolating them — even in cities.

The recent IA article on Fibre to the Farm, 'A community fix for Australia's second-rate rural broadband', received interesting reactions — two especially so.

The first one, from regional Queensland, complained about poor broadband and said they had only just got 3G connected — so much for digital progress. However, the discussion went further. There is often criticism of rural communities being either directly or indirectly involved in land clearing for agriculture, or supporting mining activities — both seen as negative for the future health of the country. The reality is that these communities are depending on agriculture or mining for their livelihood – they have no economic alternatives – and because of that, many communities are struggling to maintain their population.

What is needed is a massive transformation of the economic situation in these communities in order to maintain sustainability going forward. Climate change is only going to exacerbate the situation. It is widely acknowledged that the digital economy is seen as the most important infrastructure development in order to create this transformation.

Communities that do have truly high-speed broadband connections are seeing new economic developments. These are often starting on a small scale but are nevertheless successful. Interestingly, this is also stimulating new female entrepreneurs entering the market. Good broadband access allows them to sell goods and produce around the country and indeed around the world. These certainly are important seeds for a rural and regional economic transformation.

However, there are very few communities in rural areas that do have a sufficient enough quality broadband connection to start such a transformation.

It is interesting to note that the former Liberal Party Treasury Department secretary Ken Henry was scathing about the NBN, which he described as "truly terrible" at an address he gave last week in Canberra. He mentioned a string of policy failings that could deprive large numbers of people of opportunities to work. This is pretty similar to what the Queensland responder mentioned.

The other issue that was mentioned referred to my comments on the poor quality of the NBN satellite and fixed-wireless services. This was also linked to my own experience in the Hunter Valley when we decided to cancel the NBN satellite service and stick to Telstra’s ADSL+ service, which provided an overall better quality of service.

The question regarded Telstra's fixed network services in areas where the only NBN option is satellite or fixed wireless. The conditions under which telcos can continue to provide access to the traditional copper-based services are covered in the NBN regulations by the so-called "final access determinations" (FADs). These have recently been extended until 2024 and there is no reason to believe that they will be discontinued after that. Under these FADs, Telstra will continue to deliver copper services in places where NBN Co only offers fixed wireless or satellite connections. As mentioned previously, we were very pleased that Telstra last year upgraded the local exchange in our area which increased the quality of the ADSL service.

The takeaway message for regional and rural users is to keep protesting against the poor quality of the NBN. Last week, the 1600-strong Samford community in north Brisbane protested against their dismal NBN rollout. Many were promised a fibre connection but instead are now forced into using a satellite service. They tabled a petition in the Federal Parliament in which they argued that they are getting the worst NBN rollout of any metro area.

So it is very clear that this is not just a regional or rural issue. What this shows is that any community with a poor NBN service should follow the example of Stamford and table their complaints to Parliament.

Eventually, the Government will have to do something as it is becoming clear that its stand on the NBN is socially and economically unsustainable.

Ken Henry is certainly not one of those lefties or what some of the supporters of the second rate NBN claim to be the "fibre academics" from Melbourne. Shooting the messengers is simply no longer acceptable.

Paul Budde is managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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