Chapter 4 Access to Broadband Services in Regional and Remote Areas
In its Concluding Comments in Chapter 2 of the First Report, the committee
noted that improvement of information communication technology was important
for economic productivity and growth in Australia. This is particularly the
case for remote and regional areas where service delivery and commercial
opportunities are often limited.
The First Report also included references to:
n Access to Government services
in regional and remote Australia
n In the longer term,
economic development, growth and the vitality of local economies.
The committee recommended that the NBN Co Limited (NBN Co):
n Publish timeframes
for the rollout of National Broadband Network (NBN) services to regional and
remote areas and communicate these to the areas to which they apply.
n Investigate the
impact of transition to the NBN on currently available levels of service for
n Taking into
consideration findings of the committee’s investigation, formulate contingency
plans against potential reduction of capacity in regional and remote areas as a
consequence of the NBN rollout, if required.
In addition to further discussion on these matters, the following related
issues will be considered in this chapter:
n NBN Co’s consultation
with communities in regional and remote Australia, and
n Government readiness
for the NBN.
Access to the NBN in regional and remote Australia will be explored by outlining,
by way of example:
n the views of Ninti
One, an organisation based in Alice Springs;
n what the NBN will
provide for Central Australia and for Julia Creek in Queensland, and
n what the NBN might
mean for the Broken Hill region, particularly in e-health and education.
Current Broadband Access
Ninti One Ltd
Evidence from Ninti One Ltd set out many of the problems facing people,
especially Aboriginal people, in remote and regional places.
Ninti One drew attention to the fact that, in the Northern Territory
(NT), ‘very few communities outside the growth towns have any access at all’ to
the Internet. This has the effect of severely limiting the capacity to improve
health in remote areas because higher bandwidths are required to use
tele-conference facilities. Ninti One stated that it was dealing with ‘abject
poverty’. To change this, and increase access to markets and services, high
speed, low cost Internet facilities are required.
There are significant limitations to communications for small
communities, despite provisions in the Universal Service Obligation (USO) for
telephony and Internet access subsidies. There are also government programs in
place to provide Internet access and training to remote Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander communities. Ninti One noted that, while Internet access and
speed are issues for remote Australia, so are:
n Access to basic
telephony services, including mobile phones.
n Access to
installation and maintenance services.
n High costs of Internet
n Access to training to
improve digital literacy.
In 2008, in partnership with the University of Wollongong, Ninti One
developed a number of wireless mesh networking prototypes for communications in
remote and regional areas, as well as applications to configure the mesh
devices. Compatible with satellite technology, these mesh devices would have
distributed the Internet at community level. Made with readily available
components, the commercial cost would have been $1000 per unit. At that time,
telecommunication providers did not express any interest in this technology
because investors were not interested in it.
Ninti One noted that, while 93 per cent of Australia will have access to
speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) via fibre, remote Australia will
receive speeds of up to 12 Mbps via wireless and satellite solutions. Ninti One
believed that this will only provide minimal improvement to the availability of
higher bandwidths, and would be unsatisfactory for use in video and multimedia
applications. In turn, this could effectively limit opportunities for economic
and social development in the arts, tourism and environment sectors.
Ninti One was concerned that remote Australia was unlikely to experience
the obvious social, educational and economic benefits of Internet connectivity
if some key issues were not addressed in planning for the NBN.
Ninti One therefore recommended that the Government and NBN Co should explore
all possibilities to provide connectivity to remote Australia, by:
alternative technologies to provide information communication technology (ICT)
solutions for remote settlements.
n Commissioning a
report to establish a program to serve remote Australia to assist with the implementation
of cost-effective ICT solutions.
n Including provisions for
Internet access in Government
assistance programs for shared community Wi‐Fi
account holders and billing options.
n Providing additional
funding for ICT training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Interim Satellite Services
NBN Co’s Interim Satellite Service (ISS) was launched on 1 July 2011 using
existing commercially available, but limited, KU Band satellite capacity and
current ground equipment technology. The ISS covers 100 per cent of the
Australian land mass. Under the ISS, the
satellite equipment and installation will be provided by NBN Co, at no cost to the
end-user for a standard installation. These services are
available to consumers through NBN Co’s Satellite First Release contracts with
Optus and IPStar, agreements finalised on 6 May 2011.
The ISS aims to offer retail service providers a wholesale broadband
service designed for peak access speeds of 6Mbps downlink and 1Mbps uplink.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE)
stated that these services exceed the quality of the product that the
Australian Government offered under the Australian Broadband Guarantee.
The NBN Co Corporate plan forecasts 33 000 connected end users in the first two
years of the launch with approximately 250 000 eligible end users based on
current eligibility criteria. The NBN Co stated that
over 800 users are accessing the ISS, with positive reports being received.
Additional capacity, a wider range of plans and more service providers
are expected to be available through the ISS after its development and
promotion phase ends in November 2011. The ISS is scheduled to run until 2015,
when NBN Co plans to launch two of its own high-capacity satellites to provide
a Long Term Satellite Service (LTSS). The LTSS will aim to offer retail service
providers a wholesale broadband service, which is designed for peak download access
speeds of 12Mbps.
Long Term Satellite Services
The Long Term Satellite Service (LTSS) will include features such as
increased capacity and return path speeds that are expected to support large
file transfers and real time video communications. E-health and e-learning
applications, such as interactive distance learning multicast applications will
be supported over the LTSS. NBN Co has confirmed
that multicast services and commercial grade services will also be available:
Just to put the committee's mind at rest, [the LTSS] is a
very capable service. These are satellites ... that can do videoconferencing
and multicast so it is a full-functional service.
The NBN Co began the tender process for the space segment of the LTSS on
6 September 2011, with the ground segment tender process commencing ‘fairly soon’.
An illustrative spot beam coverage map provided in Figure 4.1 shows the
projected satellite spot beams that match the projected take up distribution.
Importantly, no single national beam is planned.
Figure 4.1 Illustrative Satellite Footprint
Overview – Satellite Access Services, August 2010, p. 16.
Some regional and remote communities expressed scepticism about the
delivery and success of promised services. The Mayor of Central
Darling Shire, Mr Paul Brown commented that:
As part of the communications network, we now have fibre
cables running past most of our townships. If they are or are not connected to
fibre, how will they get greatly improved satellite services when the ones who
have been promised already are not operating in many cases?
To address such concerns, NBN Co held various information sessions in
communities identified for the NBN rollout over a twelve month period. However,
Mr Mike Quigley, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NBN Co expressed reluctance
for NBN Co to provide satellite communities with advice on the costs associated
with wireless or fibre connections:
The difficulty we have is that we are getting many requests
from people in a satellite footprint asking what it would cost for wireless or
fibre instead and from people in a wireless footprint asking what it would cost
for fibre. These are not easy exercises to do, and they are all what-if
questions. Each time we answer them we take up the resources of a company that
is not getting on with planning the actual rollout. That is the difficulty we
Despite providing some material to the committee about the extension of the
NBN to Julia Creek in Queensland in September 2011, Mr Quigley also expressed
concerns about providing advice of this kind to the committee in the future. Issues
involved in extending the NBN will be addressed later in this chapter.
Similarly, NBN Co advised that it could not make a decision about using
the Central Australian backbone cable running from Western Australia to the
east coast to service remote communities with a wireless network as opposed to
the identified satellite service. The NBN Co stated, the decision to extend
wireless services of this kind ‘would be one for the government ... given the
likely significant additional investment required to do so’.
NBN Co stated that the cost in resources
...to examine this technical option would involve a
substantial diversion of resources for the company and NBN Co would need to be
directed by government to look at this option as it is a policy decision.
Further, Mr Michael Wilson, of M&S Consultants, commented that the
long term satellite’s KA bandwidth (in contrast to the current KU bandwidth) suffers
from ‘rain fade’. The KA bandwidth is not therefore recommended for humid
regions because it cannot penetrate areas of high precipitation.
Responding to a question about current bandwidth concerns, NBN Co stated that:
Given NBN Co intends to launch two KA Band satellites to
provide NBN wholesale broadband services, current constraints on bandwidth are
Additional issues relating to the provision of satellite services will
be addressed below.
Access to Government Services
In June 2009, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, the Minister for
Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (the Minister), announced a
competitive tender process for the $60 million Digital Regions Initiative. This
program aimed to provide the benefits of digital education, health and
emergency services in regional and remote Australia. The Minister announced
The National Broadband Network will deliver high-speed
broadband to all Australians, no matter where they choose to live or work and
the Digital Regions Initiative will drive important developments to enable the
productive benefits on offer.
Examples of possible initiatives included, but were not limited to:
n Remote medical
consultation, diagnosis and treatment to address regional skills shortages and
enhance patient care.
n Digital resources and
services such as teleconferencing to improve access to educational opportunities
for regional, rural and remote students and teachers.
n Digital technologies
to improve emergency and disaster response.
Addressing the IBM Smart Government conference, the Minister stated
that, as the NBN was rolled out:
...it will allow new and innovative Government service
delivery models, reducing costs and increasing consumer satisfaction. Over
time, clients in both metropolitan and regional areas will be able to obtain
services online instead of travelling to a Government shopfront. By helping
people transact with government online, frontline service delivery workers will
have more time and resources for tailored and face-to-face services for those
who need special assistance. It will free up staff, while allowing clients to
choose when and how they interact, in turn freeing them from the constraints of
physically attending appointments. This will save them time, money and stress.
In the National Digital Economy Strategy, the DBCDE stated that:
Effective participation in the digital economy by Government
can reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction and promote innovation.
Encouraging people to access Government services online, and making it easier
for them to do so, increases people’s digital confidence and digital literacy.
This makes it easier for Government to facilitate online engagement and
collaboration with citizens to improve service delivery or provide input into
policy and regulatory matters.
In July 2011, the Minister announced that the 2011-12 Regional Telecommunications
Review (the Review) would examine ‘telecommunication services in regional,
rural and remote parts of Australia’. The Review will pay particular regard to
‘initiatives that will enable regional communities to participate in, and
realise the opportunities of, the digital economy.’
The Review’s terms of reference asked it to report on the adequacy of
telecommunications services in regional and remote parts of Australia, as well
as ‘the opportunities that the NBN creates’ in improving the delivery of health
and education, growth in local economies, business efficiencies, and government
services and programs. The Review is to report to the Minister by 5 March 2012.
The Mayor of Central Darling Shire Council (CD Shire Council) noted that,
although the Shire was large in size, none of its towns were large enough to
support retail services such as car dealers or television and furniture shops. The
Mayor stated that local government needed access to State Government entities,
retaining access if service provisions changed. In July 2011, the Council was uncertain
whether the Shire would get fibre, wireless or satellite, but it noted that
there are concerns about each of these solutions. The Council has installed an
optic cable so that its mainframe can work between its facilities.
The CD Shire Council Mayor also raised the issue of current difficulties
with existing Telstra connections, and the provision of both Asymmetric Digital
Subscriber Line (ADSL) and mobile phone services. The CD Shire Council
highlighted that, while towns in the region had fibre running past them, they
would not be connected to it, raising the issue of the availability of the ‘greatly
improved satellite services’.
While the Australian Local Government Association has developed and
released guidelines for councils about their relationship with the NBN, and how
to be ready to receive it, the Broken Hill City (BHC) Council, for example,
does not have the resources to be able use this material.
The BHC Council has been a strong advocate of the construction of the
Regional Backbone Blackspots Program (RBBP) backhaul infrastructure (mid to
long distance transport of data from different locations back to a more central
location). As part of an NBN-enabling rollout, in July 2011, construction of the
RBBP backhaul in Broken Hill was expected to be finished by September 2011. Broken
Hill is included in the NBN fibre footprint.
BHC Council recommended that the committee:
n request the
Government and NBN Co to provide funding for partnership for regional and
remote local governments to assist them ‘to understand, develop and progress’
digital economy strategies for particular regions, and
n make representations
to NBN Co to consider key strategic locations, including Broken Hill, for the
priority rollout of the NBN to properties, not just for backhaul infrastructure.
In an effort to address internet availability in the city, the BHC Council
has partnered with its local electricity provider (which has its own fibre
optic network) to service more remote sites: the airport, swimming pool and
library. In addition to these sites, the NBN will also be required to support a
whole range of businesses in Broken Hill, including the film studio.
The BHC Council’s operations are limited for its 200 users at various
sites by an ADSL2 service as it operates intermittently. Tele-working is also
limited, so that the 100 Mbps of the NBN, or even half that amount, would
improve the current situation. The possibility of video or teleconferencing
would also be of great benefit to the Council.
Extending the Fibre Footprint
The NBN fibre footprint covers 93 per cent of all Australian premises
and includes communities with more than 1000 premises, and communities with
greater than 500 premises where transit backhaul passes near such communities.
The NBN Co has been asked by the Government to consider implementing a
process which would provide users, or other entities, such as local and state
governments with the opportunity to consider paying to extend the fibre
network, based on a costing by NBN Co.
If NBN Co is to go into first and second release sites, it engages
directly with interested councils to answer questions from such bodies, and
others, on progress on the NBN rollout.
By early September 2011, 284 local government bodies had engaged with NBN
Co, either individually, via local regions of council bodies, or through
Regional Development Australia committees. While the NBN Co is receiving
requests to extend the NBN from suburban councils, most such requests are from
The NBN Co advised that, while there has been ‘some general interest’
from councils in extending the fibre network, it had not yet established a
mechanism for larger expectations that would require building additional fibre
access nodes. The NBN Co expected that it would recover the incremental cost of
extending the fibre network to premises beyond the planned 93 per cent of
The NBN Co also advised that its NBN rollout schedule is based on a
‘complex mix of factors’, including Government requirements such as regional
focuses, the availability of Telstra’s infrastructure, the path of the transit
network and the construction capability in any given area.
In its First Report, the committee noted that Julia Creek, Queensland is
defined as a ‘district rural activity centre’. Julia Creek has educational and
health services, and acts as a hub for a 40 000 square kilometre area that
supports about 1000 residents. The NBN fibre cable has been laid and passes
through Julia Creek, but the town will not be connected to the fibre network.
In correspondence to the committee, Mr Paul Woodhouse,
Mayor of the McKinlay Shire Council, put the view that Julia Creek would
benefit from inclusion in the NBN fibre footprint as it would enable provision
of better health services, and allow for improved communication for the
pastoral industry across great distance.
Moreover, Mr Woodhouse provided a list of other small towns in
Queensland and the NT that could not be included in the fibre footprint, and
would benefit from a fibre or satellite connection to the NBN.
The NBN Co advised that with only 271 eligible premises, Julia Creek
does not qualify for the provision of fibre. Subject to final design, premises in
Julia Creek would be connected to the NBN by fixed wireless technology. The NBN
Co estimated the total cost of providing fibre to premises in Julia Creek to be
$1.14 million. This estimate does not include capitalised leases for access to
Telstra ducts, or electricity poles required to complete the build.
Under current policy, if a premise is just outside the fibre footprint,
at an additional cost, NBN Co can extend the fibre footprint ‘a little
further.’ As there is no fibre access node covering Julia Creek, a new one
would have to be constructed. The implications of this process have not been
discussed with the Government, and it would be starting materially to increase
the percentage of the continent to be provided with fibre.
The NBN Co advised that costings for extensions to the NBN fibre network
are not ‘trivial’ exercises, and that:
Preparing costings around individual propositions is a
significant diversion of resources and NBN Co is therefore only intending to do
so for locations contiguous with our rollout and when we receive an application
under a properly defined process.
In later correspondence to the committee, Mr Paul Woodhouse stated that
the estimated $1.14 million to include Julia Creek within the NBN fibre
footprint ‘is certainly beyond the means’ of the shire council ‘within the
short term’ and that ‘council remains committed to exploring any avenue in
order to bring benefit to the community by this advanced technology.’
Mr Paul Woodhouse asked for consideration to be given to additional
modelling for inclusion of Julia creek to the fibre footprint ‘to better assess
the gap required in financial terms, and so estimate the level of any co
Government Readiness for the NBN
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the DBCDE are working
closely with all Government agencies responsible for Digital Productivity
Issues, and, to ensure that Australian Government organisations are ready for
the rollout of the NBN. Government agencies on other programs and initiatives
are also involved in this process.
More generally, the Government recognises that the NBN will be a
significant piece of critical infrastructure that will underpin the provision
of a range of essential community services. NBN Co has therefore been requested
to consult with law enforcement and security agencies to ensure that national
security and resilience considerations are taken into account in the design and
operation of the network.
In building the network, NBN Co is providing appropriate redundancy in its
core and transmission links to maintain service in the event of an accident or
power loss. For example, if a fibre transmission link is cut, network traffic
can be diverted via a redundant link to maintain services.
To maintain access to phone services for home users and small businesses
during blackouts, the Government intends to undertake consultation with
stakeholders, including emergency services, on the appropriate way of ensuring
access to battery backup for those who need it. In the interim, NBN Co will deploy
a mandatory battery backup unit that will support continued provision of voice
services via the voice port on the network termination device during a power
outage. The battery is expected to last for approximately five hours, based on
a high level of talk time during that period, to support the provision of voice
services for those who need them.
The national telephone-based emergency warning system, Emergency Alert,
enables participating States and Territories to issue warnings to telephones
linked to addresses within a geographical area affected by an emergency.
Warnings to landline (voice) and mobile (text) telephones are sent using
service/customer address information that is drawn from the Integrated Public
Number Database (IPND). The Emergency Alert Service will continue to operate
over the NBN to warn people of an emergency. The Government is continuing to
work to ensure that the national Emergency Alert system remains fully
effective, including information provided from the IPND.
The NBN Co’s Points of Interconnect, the majority of which will be
located within existing Telstra exchange facilities, are secure locations with
appropriate backup power to support the continued operation of services to
premises in the event of blackouts.
In its August 2011 report Broadening the debate, the House of Representatives
Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications (the Infrastructure and
Communications Committee) drew attention to the ‘transitional and
transformational issues’ that will result from wider access to broadband. In
particular, that Committee flagged the impact of such change on Australia’s
The Infrastructure and Communications Committee was told that the
Internet, from a platform of access to superfast broadband, is impacting on
postal operations world-wide, including in Australia. Businesses, especially
those that have traditionally been large users of postal services, are ‘actively
substituting’ physical forms of communication for electronic ones.
The Infrastructure and Communications Committee was also told that
Australia Post (AustPost) had embarked on a process of organisational
restructuring that will see it commit $20 million over three years to prepare
its 40 000 employees for ‘repositioning and new areas of business.’ That
committee noted that that there has been a significant decrease in regular mail
volumes as a result of Internet services, but that this had been offset to some
extent by a significant increase in parcel post stimulated by the increased
The Infrastructure and Communications Committee noted that the
Government had been urged to examine actively what measures can be developed to
help Australia’s postal service to reposition itself in the face of this
technological change. That committee recommended:
That the Government develop a long term strategy to up-skill
and/or retrain the existing workforce and develop new training programs to
address emerging skills gaps.
These technological changes have already impacted on the approximately 3000
licensed post offices (LPOs) across Australia which account for about 80 per
cent of AustPost’s network. It is ‘quite typical’ for a post office in regional
Australia to serve people in a 50 or 100 kilometre radius.
Typical manual LPOs are small, serving rural and remote communities.
They cannot perform such transactions as:
n Electronic funds
n Commonwealth Bank
debit card deposits/withdrawals.
n Mobile phone top-ups.
n Proof of identity
n Local, State or
Federal Government services.
n Business banking.
The Post Office Agents Association Ltd (POAAL) stated that, if the NBN
is to be Australia’s next major infrastructure project, it should be used to
help maintain or improve the existing infrastructure. Of the 3000 LPOs in its
retail network, 464 do not have access to AustPost’s electronic point-of-sale
(EPOS) system. The ‘vast majority’ of these are in regional and remote
Australia. EPOS has not been installed because these LPOs process a small
number of transactions per year: typically, less than 2500. If there are under
10 000 transactions per year, the owner/operator pays a ‘shortfall fee’ to
According to AustPost, the approximate cost of installing EPOS in an LPO
is $20 000. Costs associated with the facility include:
n Installing and
maintaining the data connection, which is the major cost.
n Computer hardware.
n Ongoing help and
As a result of AustPost’s guidelines, licensees without EPOS have to be
prepared to put up funds to have it installed themselves and hope that their
businesses will provide returns.
The POAAL noted that AustPost is in the process of upgrading its EPOS
network to a system that needs more bandwidth than the existing system. The POAAL’s
members complain that the new system is too slow and that it lacks bandwidth
for high speed data communications.
The POAAL stated that access to high speed data connections at low cost
by the NBN would reduce a significant cost barrier to the installation of EPOS
in small LPOs. This would be ‘of immediate and enduring benefit’ to local
communities, and the owners/operators of LPOs.
The POAAL believed that communities served by LPOs without EPOS are not
able to access the full range of AustPost services, including financial
services. It also believed that LPOs in regional and remote Australia are still
viable business options, provided that they can offer a full range of products.
Without access to AustPost’s electronic network, and all its products
and services, it is unlikely that the numbers of transactions of a manual LPO
would ever increase sufficiently to meet the minimum criteria for the
installation of EPOS.
The greater the range of services offered by LPOs, the more viable they
are as businesses. Manual LPOs are at greater risk of closure than those with
EPOS and, if they close, communities can lose more than the services they
provide. This includes the jobs of those who worked there and the ‘knock-on’
effects for other businesses and services. In very small communities, the post
office is often the only shop in town.
Postal services are evolving with advances in technology and the growth
of e-commerce. As they do not have EPOS, manual LPOs are not part of AustPost’s
‘track-and-trace’ network. Remote and regional communities do not have easy
access to many retailers and, where products are not available locally, customers
increasingly use the internet to find them. LPOs are often involved in
delivering these products.
The POAAL drew attention to the changing nature of postal services,
noting that the greater availability of broadband internet has been linked to
falling numbers of letters posted. Nevertheless, addressed mail continues to be
important for businesses, and parcel services are becoming an increasingly
important distribution channel for businesses, especially those online. It was
estimated that parcel numbers have grown about 10 per cent per year over
the last six years. POAAL suggested that increased broadband access would
‘probably stimulate e-commerce, resulting in increased numbers of parcels.
Major banks have closed many of their smaller branches outside major
centres, so that communities have come to rely on the post office to withdraw
cash. The POAAL believed that access to a greater range of banking options
would have positive effects on other local businesses.
The POAAL was in favour of strengthening the network of post offices by
reducing the cost of installing EPOS as this would provide AustPost with ‘a true
electronic network’ across the country. This would enable communities to
benefit from the NBN, even if individuals do not have access to the internet.
If this electronic network became more widely available because the NBN reduced
installation costs, it would assist in removing some of the disparities between
metropolitan and regional/remote areas.
In an address to the Ehealth summit in 2010, the Minister noted that the
...will revolutionise the way health services can be
delivered to people in their homes whether by their GPs, specialists and other
health professionals, or as outpatients from the hospital system. Telehealth
can assist aged people to stay in their homes longer, thereby reducing
admissions to aged care facilities and improving their quality of life.
In the Digital Strategy, the DBCDE noted that the NBN will
...a platform that allows homes, doctors’ surgeries,
pharmacies, clinics, aged-care facilities and allied health professionals to
connect to affordable, reliable, high-speed and high-capacity broadband. This
is a major opportunity to improve the way healthcare is delivered in Australia.
According to the Digital Strategy, the NBN will also:
...assist in improving health service delivery, delivering
care to the home, enabling innovation in healthcare, facilitating widespread
adoption of electronic records and reducing funding pressures on the health
system. The NBN will also enable the connection of health clinics and
facilities in regional Australia with major metropolitan health institutions,
increasing the availability of remote consultation services.
The Digital Strategy quoted an Access Economics study from 2010 that
analysed the potential impacts of tele-health under the NBN,
identifying a range of benefits including:
n Decreased travel to
attend medical appointments.
n Increased employment.
n Ongoing benefits to
Australia of between $2 billion to $4 billion per year.
With its partner, the University of New England, NBN Co has already been
able to demonstrate remote medical training, with positive responses.
In its August 2011 report, the Infrastructure and Communications
Committee commented that health ‘is undoubtedly seen as the sector that will
benefit most from the NBN’.
The Infrastructure and Communications Committee noted various
tele-health applications that already exist or that will become feasible via
the NBN. These include:
n Remote consultations,
diagnostics and treatment.
n Electronic storage
and transmission of medical data.
n In-home monitoring.
n Rehabilitation and
n Aged care.
n Mental health.
The Infrastructure and Communications Committee also noted that other
benefits would also follow from the rollout of the NBN, including:
n Improved service in
n Attraction, retention
and use of health professionals in regional and remote areas.
n Continued development
of e-health records.
n Improved medical
In addition, the Infrastructure and Communications Committee commented
that the availability of ‘fast and ubiquitous broadband’ will change the
delivery of health services in Australia by enabling more efficient delivery of
services. This would result in savings of costs and time for both citizens and
providers. It would also enable better access to services for those isolated by
distance or incapacity, ‘resulting in improved health outcomes and enhanced quality
The Infrastructure and Communications Committee observed that the
ability to deliver health services more efficiently is extremely important for
an ageing population, and for related increases in healthcare spending. It
referred to estimates of possible savings, including a report by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), indicating
that savings of between 10 and 20 per cent were possible in a range of ways,
from reduced hospital admissions to more productive use of the stretched
Capgemini Australia Ltd, a Melbourne consulting, technology and
outsourcing company, noted that use of e-technologies could lower health costs and
could be achieved through:
n appropriate patient
monitoring in the home to reduce service delivery costs and overcrowding;
n use of the Personally
Controlled Electronic Health Record;
n implementation of
joint ventures for driving back office efficiencies, and
n changes to the
performance model of funding for hospitals and clinicians.
Capgemini suggested that, through the use of high speed symmetrical
broadband, patients with diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and asthma could
be monitored in their homes in consultation with their practitioners.
This would require the development of specific applications to enable:
n patient and
practitioner to connect;
n secure transportation
of results and supporting images;
n provision of referrals,
n connections to local
practitioners for support.
Capgemini made reference to concerns of medical practitioners in remote
South Australia that the full benefits of e-health will not be available
because of a reliance on satellite services. The NBN Co stated that it was
seeking to provide a good high speed satellite service, one that is capable of
high definition videoconferencing. The NBN Co added that, through its satellite
service, the special e-health needs of regional and remote communities were
Workforce Issues in ICT Education
Capgemini stressed that ICT professionals must be available to undertake
development and implementation of applications within Australia. They must also
be able to live and work within governance frameworks for privacy and security.
The firm was therefore concerned that a shortage of ICT skills could have an
impact on the benefits of the NBN for e-health.
In this context, Capgemini noted that, while it used to have the largest
intake of ICT students in Australia, Monash University had halved the size of
its ICT department three years ago. Only two Australian universities are now providing
specific ICT e-health development programs, leading to concerns that
insufficient graduates might be available to meet the markets’ needs. The firm
provided information that, between 2000 and 2004, university ICT places
declined in South Australia by 50 per cent and in Western Australia by 38 per
cent. Capgemini noted that graduates from this period would have been entering
the workforce by 2008 at the latest.
Far West Local Health District Board
The Far West Local District Health Board (FWLDHB) is based in Broken
Hill and looks after approximately 35 000 people. It has state-of-the-art
equipment: Internet connections and facilities for videoconferencing, so that
it does a lot of its business by video link. While Medicare benefits are now
available to support video-conferencing from remote locations, FWLDHB cannot
support all the tertiary services that are needed. Outside expertise is brought
in, and much can be done by video-conferencing, but high quality connections
Wilcannia and Broken Hill were pilot sites for the NSW tele-health
initiative at a time when FWLDHB was struggling to provide services to remote
communities. Tele-health was introduced to bridge the gap between metropolitan
and remote and regional sites. In 1995, FWLDHB was able to provide services
between Broken Hill and Wilcannia, so that there were at least 54
video-conferencing tele-health service and facilities that have been
maintained. Since then, technology has advanced significantly.
As FWLDHB cannot presently connect its videoconference facilities to its
metropolitan partners, it is losing access to clinical services for its
communities. Almost every videoconference is interrupted in some way by either
image degradation or interruptions to connections or the sound. FWLDHB cannot
retain its reputation in medicine if it cannot keep up its technological
There has also been degradation of professional medical education
because connections are not adequate for peripheral sites in FWLDHB’s area to
participate in interactive environments. More generally, FWLDHB has found that
if quality services are not provided, participants tend to drop out. FWLDHB
commented that if it cannot deliver a service that engages the participants,
‘then it is almost as bad’ as not being able to access the service anyway.
Royal Flying Doctor Service, South Eastern Section
The Royal Flying Doctor Service, South Eastern Section (RFDS SE) provides
health care to some of the most isolated people and communities, with some of
the worst health indicators, in the country. The RFDS SE commented that:
To say that our clients are disadvantaged in health is an
understatement. And the difference in health outcomes in these populations lies
primarily in access to, and the use of, health services.
The RFDS SE is committed to providing the best possible health care to
Australians living, working and travelling throughout far-west NSW, south-west Queensland
and north-east South Australia. Its headquarters are in Broken Hill, and access
to fast and reliable broadband is crucial to all aspects of its operations.
The RFDS SE also works closely with the University of Sydney’s
Department of Rural Health in Broken Hill (UDRH) to support the training and
education of current health professionals, remote health workers and the future
Rurally based research, needed to determine how best to reduce the gap
in health outcomes, is also dependent on broadband services. Researching rural
health, access problems and new service models requires teams of experts
working collaboratively. UDRH staff based in Broken Hill work closely with teams
in Sydney, Newcastle, Orange, Lismore, Moree, Bendigo, Alice Springs and
overseas. The ability to work collaboratively, to supervise PhD students, to
attract and retain post-doctoral researchers, and to undertake research that is
both competitive and practical, ‘depends on good, reliable and fast internet
services: services that are taken for granted in the city.’
A key focus for both RFDS SE and UDRH is the medical education of
undergraduate health students and junior medical officers. The UDRH provides
extensive clinical training for medical, nursing and allied health students in
Broken Hill and surrounding communities. Placements in regional and remote areas
provide students with valuable clinical experience, and help inform
metropolitan providers about practice in those areas and the needs of residents
in those areas. They promote appropriate practices for remote areas to future
health professionals, so helping increase the future health workforce in such
Fast and reliable broadband enables the continuation of close links with
their universities during these clinical placements, ensuring students can
continue to have access to formal course content. It also enables access to
As it operates in remote areas, the RFDS SE has had to embrace new technologies
to provide essential medical and health services in far-west NSW and beyond. Before
the term was invented, the RFDS SE provided tele-health consultations by
conducting consultations over the radio, initially by Morse Code. The RFDS SE pioneered
radio medical calls and provided station properties with access to the outside
In 2007, the RFDS SE began a project to provide its clinicians with
electronic medical records. The database was centralised and clinicians were
provided with access remotely to patients’ records. Remote access was provided
using wireless USB broadband and a company system to log on. This is ‘no longer
The introduction of iDevices such as tablets and smart phones with NextGen
capability, and the resultant reduction in bandwidth, means that there has been
an adverse effect on clinical services provided by the RFDS SE. At the current
rate of decline of the broadband system, if nothing is done, a point will be
reached when it will be unusable for RFDS SE and its clinicians. The RFDS SE
believed that the Broken Hill area needed the NBN, or there will be ‘a very
serious impact’ on the health of its people.
The RFDS SE provides consultations to remote people by telephone, but tele-health
has been identified as a future direction and a growing need to provide timely
access to appropriate medical care. It would like to offer consultations not
only by telephone but by using videoconferencing, as well as improved
capabilities for data transmission of clinical information.
The health centre in Broken Hill is installing high definition video
cameras in the emergency assessment areas of its clinics. The RFDS SE needs to
be able to access this technology to enable it to assist rural nurses in
providing emergency care.
The RFDS SE also flies into 18 isolated communities on a regular basis
in far-west NSW, south west Queensland and north-east South Australia to
provide clinics. For coordinated care, it needs to be able to access
centralised medical records and, for this, it needs reliable broadband.
The NBN is planned to pass through Wilcannia, a regular RFDS SE clinic
location accounting for approximately 25 per cent of its workload. A fibre
access node has not been planned there: one node at Broken Hill is proposed for
the 640,000 square kilometres covered by RFDS SE. An additional node at
Wilcannia would significantly improve broadband capacity in the region,
allowing it to implement a range of initiatives that would improve and enhance
health services and outcomes.
Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation
The Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation (Maari Ma) is involved in
research and evaluation, focussing on Aboriginal issues in the region and
leading ‘inter-agency work on child development and well-being.’
The Maari Ma was of the view that resources are needed to put programs
in place to address Aboriginal health in remote Australia. Remote Australia is
often a ‘poor cousin’ to metropolitan areas in the provision of the infrastructure
needed to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
To use the available technology effectively at Maari Ma’s regional
office in Broken Hill, two ADSL2 connections have to be used. Maari Ma
commented that, because its office is only a few hundred metres from the exchange,
‘decent’ ADSL2 speeds are available.
Ten young aboriginal health workers earned TAFE Certificates through a
block study program in Broken Hill and holding weekly videoconferences with
teachers in Dubbo. Maari Ma now has ten new clinicians.
Maari Ma has also implemented innovative service deliveries, such as an
outback vascular service. While specialists in kidney disease, cardiology and
endocrinology from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney visit quarterly,
Maari Ma holds monthly videoconferences to receive these services.
In more remote areas, higher speeds for both uploading and downloading are
required because, at present, only the bare minimum of technology is used. The
emphasis is on access to patient records and appointments are often recorded on
paper, rather than using the available software. Maari Ma pointed out that, if
using mobile phones around Broken Hill was difficult, it was ‘ten million times
worse’ in Wilcannia.
For the past three years, doctors in Menindee and Wilcannia have used a
variety of technologies to get connections for the available software. Maari Ma
has invested in ICT in ‘the last 12 to 18 months’ to enable it to be ready to
receive the NBN.
The committee received evidence that, apart from Alice Springs and some
other remote communities, Central Australia will be served by satellite.
Telstra has an east west fibre link from WA to the east coast which passes
through or close to some of the larger communities. They have asked whether, if
they are not going to be served with fibre to the premises, they could receive
terrestrial wireless connections.
The committee was also informed that medical practitioners in the Anangu
Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in the far north of northern South
Australia are concerned that the full benefits of e-health with the NBN will
not be accessible because they will have to rely on satellite.
The NBN Co stated that, as the satellite service was being finalised, it
was negotiating to provide a high speed service capable of high-definition
video-conferencing. NBN Co undertook to provide information about what is
underway to ensure that the health needs of regional and remote Australia are
In May 2011, the Government announced the provision of $27.2 million for
a four year NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services Program, to
support the development of online and interactive education and training
projects. The sponsoring Ministers observed that:
The NBN will support the delivery of online learning through
the video and web-conferencing platforms needed for 21st century education,
training and skills development...We will look at innovative education and
training projects, which have the potential to deliver high quality, accessible
and sustainable online tools to Australian schools, TAFEs, universities,
workplaces and homes...The program will focus on projects which help
Australians to study, learn and develop skills no matter where they live or
work around Australia.
In the Digital Strategy, the DBCDE stated that:
The availability of ubiquitous, high-speed broadband has the
potential to significantly extend the reach, availability and quality of
education services, particularly in regional areas, to help meet these needs.
This can be achieved by supplementing teaching and training with access to
subject matter experts and teachers outside of the local area. In addition, the
greater data capacity of the NBN (both download and upload) can enable more
intensive and immersive online interactions, resulting in higher-quality
learning outcomes for students.
These interactions can occur through:
n greater use of the
increasing array of online educational materials, or
n access to
video-conferencing with other classrooms or institutions in Australia or
n the increased use of
bandwidth intensive applications, such as high definition video, for
interactive instruction or learning.
As part of the first switch on event on the mainland at Armidale, NSW,
NBN Co had demonstrated high definition video conferencing between high school
choirs in Tasmania and Armidale. NBN Co’s retail service providers (RSPs) and
university partners, Telstra, Internode, iPrimus, iiNet, had also demonstrated
educational activities, multi-way business video-conferencing, high speed
broadband entertainment through T-Hub and Fetch TV. NBN Co advised that the
feedback in response to these demonstrations had been ‘positive’.
Capgemini believed that technology had changed the pedagogical model by
creating environments where students can lead their own learning, undertake
research and interact on a daily basis with other students across the globe. While
the NBN will provide a mechanism for high value content for schools and homes,
specific applications will be required to make full use of the capability. Overseas
examples demonstrated the value of specific applications, online tools for
collaboration, standards-based curriculums and teacher training skills,
especially for disadvantaged communities.
Capgemini noted that the Government had released $27.2 million for the
NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services Program for innovative proposals to
support project development and deployment trials for communities targeted to
benefit early from the NBN. Capgemini also noted the Government’s opportunity
to increase the capacity of the Australian ICT industry. Capgemini will be able
to increase the value of locally designed and developed applications by guiding
recipients of funding to work with the ICT sector to design, develop and
commercialise suitable applications.
Capgemini was also concerned that a shortage of ICT skills could have an
impact on the benefits of the NBN for education.
M&S Consultants Pty Ltd
Mr Michael Wilson of M&S Consultants noted that:
The currently proposed and offered NBN satellite solution
does not support distance education as it does not support video-conferencing
or have multicast functionality.
Mr Michael Wilson commented that for the past five years the NT School
of the Air (SOTA) has been delivering successful Interactive Distance Learning
lessons to students wherever they are located. The SOTA uses technology that
does not support video-conferencing and does not have multicast functionality,
but delivers education that is resource and cost effective.
Mr Michael Wilson believed that the NBN’s satellite solution is ‘inferior
and inadequate’ for the needs of students who will receive education via
satellite. If this solution is rolled out in its present form, students will be
‘severely disadvantaged and forced to take a retrograde step’ in their
Mr Michael Wilson believed that the currently available level of multicasting
would not be available via the NBN’s satellite service ‘for the next five
years’, and that it was not clear what would be provided then. Mr Michael
Wilson also believed that the NBN would not support current requirements for
video-conferencing, and will not therefore be able to accommodate future
developments in either field.
Mr Michael Wilson stated that under the NBN ‘probably about 50 per cent’
of the NT population would be serviced by satellite or wireless. Mr Michael
Wilson stated that people in regional and remote Australia were promised that
the NBN would provide communications that would be superior to what they had. Mr
Michael Wilson believed that what has been offered by NBN Co ‘is not even
comparable to what currently exists’, because current solutions take no account
of the needs of people that rely on satellites for communications in remote
In response to these concerns, NBN Co advised that the interim satellite
service was put in place at the Government’s request to upgrade the existing
Australian Broadband Guarantee. It was launched on 1 July 2011, but it was not
intended to meet the needs of SOTA. The interim service is scheduled to run
until 2015 when NBN Co plans to launch two high capacity satellites. This long
term ‘very capable service’ will provide videoconferences and multicast
The DBCDE confirmed that multicast and commercial grade services will be
available over the long term satellite service. E-health and e-learning, such
as the interactive distance learning multicast application used by SOTA will be
supported by the long term satellite solution.
The NBN Co did not agree with the estimate that ‘about 50 per cent’ of
the Territory would be served by satellite. The percentage of premises in the
NT fibre footprint will be ‘substantially higher’ and likely to approximate the
national average. As NBN Co intends to launch two KA band satellites to provide
wholesale broadband services, it did not believe that current bandwidth
constraints will be relevant.
Regional Development Australia Far West NSW
Regional Development Australia Far West NSW (RDFW) stated that existing
broadband services in Broken Hill did not meet customer expectations in terms
of price or product quality, and that test results showed deficiencies in speed
and consistency of service. The RDFW drew attention to ‘the tremendous
disadvantages’ faced by residents in the region, and to plans to improve the regional
economy through sector diversification.
The RDFW wishes to pursue opportunities in eco-tourism and creative
industries, through proposals to nominate the Menindee Lakes area as a Ramsar
site and the completion of the film studio in Broken Hill respectively. Both industries
are seen as ‘heavily dependent’ on improved technology.
In 2010, it was understood that NBN’s Mildura-Broken Hill cable was expected
to be ready to be switched on in September 2011. In July 2011, the RDFW was
aware that there had been confusion between switching the cable on and rolling
out the fibre to premises, and was waiting for advice about when the cable
would be switched on.
The NBN Co noted that, at the hearing in Broken Hill in July 2011, there
was some confusion between the Government’s RBBP, scheduled for completion in
Broken Hill in 2011, and the rollout of the NBN. This confusion has since been ‘resolved’.
A 12-month rollout plan was released in mid October 2011 which will be
‘followed by a three-year indicative rollout plan early’ in 2012.
Internet access and communications generally are seen as ways of
resolving problems in recruiting and retaining people in the mining industry in
Broken Hill. The industry relies on technology with remote access to software,
so that it needs the capacity for external contractors to be able to dial in to
assist with trouble-shooting.
The distance of the Perilya mine from Broken Hill ‘severely’ limits the
ability of the available technology to meet the mine’s requirements
economically. Thus, although technology has been increased to allow for online
purchasing, the mine has difficulties in sending photos or large files
externally. It has a videoconferencing facility it cannot use. As the NBN will
not be available for some time, Perilya has had to commission Telstra to
install a fibre link at a much greater cost than would have been incurred via
the NBN. The lack of a reliable service will force the mine to use more
resources from its head office in Perth, thus limiting its ability to assist
businesses to create business within the Broken Hill area.
The mine has some ageing infrastructure, mainly copper lines, and has
installed number of underground fibre links that struggle for access through
Telstra’s exchange. The current mine data link is an inadequate single ADSL
line. Perilya has expanded overseas and around Australia, and staff has
difficulty performing their duties because links are non-existent or too slow.
The Perilya mine has 67 houses with fixed radio access (FRA), providing
a telephone service through 56 kilobytes per second dial-up modems. There is an
additional cost on top of the FRA service: a dying technology, with ‘only a
few’ Telstra personnel available in Australia to service it. Telstra is
installing NextGen services, still only able to handle a finite amount of data,
but only into occupied houses. When houses are occupied later, the occupants
will have to pay to install NextGen. Access to the NBN will be provided probably
via fibre to the node for all 67 houses but it is required soon as, when
support for FRA is removed, there will be no service for all or some of these
Consultation with Regional and Remote Communities
NBN Co’s Plans
The NBN Co’s Information Pack stated that effective engagement with
Communities and stakeholders in the NBN was ‘a key priority’ for NBN Co. It had
established a dedicated group whose task it is to engage with communities and
stakeholders ‘throughout the project rollout.’ A structured program of
community and stakeholder engagement activities had been ‘designed and
The NBN Co said that it would:
...endeavour to keep key local stakeholders such as local
councils and other regulatory authorities well informed throughout the rollout
The NBN Co’s key community relations objectives are:
n To ensure that all
key stakeholders are identified and engaged in an appropriate, timely and
consistent manner, and their need and interests are recognised.
n To foster open and
ongoing channels of communication with stakeholders during each project phase.
n To understand issues
and concerns and resolve or escalate them in an appropriate manner.
n To provide
stakeholders with information about construction and/or environmental impacts
that will affect them, and create awareness of mitigation measures to minimise
n To educate the
community and key stakeholders about the benefits of the NBN.
Public Education Activity
The NBN Co drew the committee’s attention to its communications and
stakeholder activities ‘prior to during and after rollout in each area, in line
with the Government requirement to provide Public Information on Migration
(PIM).’ The Government is committed to providing these activities for each
fibre serving node, roughly 3000 premises.
The PIM activities are primarily to enable the smooth migration of
customers to the NBN. They will be developed in consultation with the
Government, Telstra and the wider industry, covering fundamental questions
relating to continuity of service, such as:
n when and how to
migrate services from the copper network to an NBN- based service;
n what equipment and
wiring (if any) is needed, and
n the nature of
services to become available, and what these will enable.
A public education activity is planned to provide information to ensure,
to the greatest practical extent, that Australians maintain the continuity of
their telecommunication services during the move to the NBN. This public
education activity will:
n provide advance notice
of service rollout;
n explain the actions
people need to take to connect to the NBN, and
n encourage people to
start the migration process onto the NBN before their old service is retired.
Increasing resources will therefore be put into providing educational
material and information, and material will also be available on the NBN Co
website which is regularly updated. The NBN Co will focus its community
engagement around the rollout of the Network. The NBN Co is putting in place a
unit to go ahead of the rollout to hold town meetings and information days, as
well as using electronic means, to spread information about the network.
The NBN Co also makes information available through media announcements,
community-run forums, ongoing liaison with stakeholders and speaking
engagements. The NBN Co has put in place a Solutions Centre, and a free 1800-series
phone number to answer questions.
The 1800 number for its Solutions Centre is widely displayed on the NBN Co
website and business cards that field staff, contractors and management hand
out to end-users. This number is also on all case studies, community information
documents and all documentation that goes out to members of the public alerting
them of any work in their area. Since commencing operations on 19April 2011,
the call centre has received 11 348 calls from the public, 1474 of which were
from regional and remote areas.
The NBN Co noted that PIM is a major undertaking and a core activity.
The PIM will inform more than 13 million premises until the NBN rollout is
complete. Further details of these activities are still the subject of
discussions among NBN Co, the Government, and industry stakeholders.
A wide range of issues have already been raised with NBN Co as it
engages with stakeholders across the country, including the timing of the
rollout, what actions property owners need to take and the benefits of the NBN.
The NBN Co seeks to deal with issues during consultation sessions and, where
appropriate, has made contact after events with people who have raised issues.
The NBN Co employees have visited or talked with representatives from
‘hundreds’ of communities across Australia. These have included small meetings
in Aboriginal communities through to large national conferences. The NBN Co has
also consulted with national peak bodies, such as the National Farmers’
Federation, the Australian Local Government Association and the Broadband Today
Alliance. These discussions have covered all aspects of the NBN rollout, and
what it can mean to communities.
Community information sessions have been held in the following locations
n Triabunna on 14 May
n Sorell on 15 May 2011.
n Deloraine on 6 August
n Kingston Beach on 2 July
n George Town on 24 September
n South Hobart on 29 October
Attendance at these sessions varied, but
ranged from approximately 200 to 350 people for most sessions. Discussion
covered a range of issues relating to the timing and other aspects of the
rollout, and the capabilities of broadband more generally.
On 18 October 2011, an NBN Co media release advised the ‘public
education activity’ will be launched ‘next year’:
...to explain what the rollout will mean for every
Australian, how to connect to the network and why it is important that the
nation upgrades its telecommunications infrastructure.
The media release also announced the rollout of the NBN network for 28
new locations, passing 485 000 premises, where construction is expected to
commence over the next 12 months. This schedule will be updated quarterly to
include additional locations. Early in 2012, the NBN Co will release a
three-year ‘indicative view’ of the rollout that will be updated annually until
the anticipated completion of the rollout, in ten years’ time.
Consultations in the Broken Hill region
Evidence taken at Broken Hill repeatedly demonstrated the need and
wishes for reliable, fast broadband to improve education, health, employment,
economic development, local government and businesses in the region. Unfortunately,
this evidence also seemed to reveal the limits of NBN Co’s engagements with
organisations and businesses in the region, and the confusion about the RBBP.
For example, RDFW said that it had contact with NBN Co for ‘general
consultation in the region for over a year’. RDFW stated that there had been two
public consultations in Broken Hill in May and June 2010, focussing on
education and the regional business community respectively. These sessions were
followed up by a technology evening. After several attempts to contact NBN Co,
in July 2011, RDFW was still waiting to find out when the Mildura-Broken Hill
cable would be switched on.
The Perilya mine had received ‘next to zero feedback’ in its attempts to
establish when fibre would be available.
The Mayor of Central Darling Shire Council said that there had been no
engagement with the NBN Co on NBN rollout in the area and that the Council did
not expect to be linked to the NBN in the early stages. The council was
uncertain whether the area would be connected by fibre, wireless or satellite
to the NBN.
The General Manager, Broken Hill City Council, Mr Frank Zaknich stated
that, although the backhaul was expected to be completed in Broken Hill by
September 2011, beyond that the Council had no indication or expectation
supported by any information from the NBN Co.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) referred
to a study by the Australian Communications Management Authority (ACMA) that
showed that 2.6 million Australians did not have access to the internet, either
via mobile phones or a fixed service at home. This study also showed that, of
the people studied:
n 62 per cent of the
total had incomes of less than $25 000 per year.
n 53 per cent were aged
55 years or more.
n Most lived in rural
or remote areas.
n One third accessed
the internet outside their homes.
n Forty-two per cent
reported that cost was a factor, and that connecting the internet at home was
The Asia Pacific Consulting Group (APCG) stated that the digital divide
in Australia is economic, not geographic. The APCG’s submission put the view
that higher socioeconomic groups will embrace the NBN because:
n They will recognise
productivity benefits: information, savings of time, inclusion, access to retail
n There is an
attractive cost/benefit trade-off.
n Their rapid adoption
of ADSL, mobile phones and dial-up.
The APCG believed that the take-up of the NBN is likely to be magnified
in favour of the higher socioeconomic households and discriminate against lower
socio-economic households. The NBN may not be as positive for the latter because
costly pricing programs may limit participation and further marginalise them. There
will, therefore, be a greater challenge for the NBN to create benefits for such
n The productivity
benefit is not easily identified, e.g. time savings compared with the access
n The cost/benefit
trade-off is likely to be challenging in difficult economic circumstances.
n Their adoption of
ADSL, mobile phones and dial-up is slower.
The APCG noted that households at the top income levels have
‘consistently high’ rates of broadband access, regardless of whether they are
metropolitan, regional or remote. The APCG also observed that regional and
remote households with higher income levels have higher rates of broadband
access than lower income metropolitan households.
The APCG noted that, where funds were available, there was a willingness
to purchase broadband. Investment in broadband by some regional and remote
households becomes ‘a natural part of existence.’ While speed is a ‘major
concern’ to all users, the gains in speed in moving from dial-up to broadband
was such that most consumers are willing to make the investment, and suggested,
the satellite option was also ‘gaining traction.’
The APCG suggested that there would be differences between income groups
in their approach to fast broadband. Households with the highest incomes ‘would
be interested’ in 100 Mbps and while they could afford to pay for it, the APCG
believed that ’only a minority’ would be likely to use the full bandwidth
regularly. The next income level would be interested in faster bandwidth, but
may see 30 to 50 Mbps as satisfactory and affordable. Lower income households
do not need, and could not afford, 100 Mbps, and are likely to be satisfied
with inclusion at current speeds at lower price points.
The APCG recommended the establishment of a ‘basic broadband account’,
similar to public transport concession and seniors’ cards. Such an account
would need to be a simple card; means tested and designed to promote inclusion.
The ACCAN noted that there had been ‘a lot of statements about
affordability’ of the NBN. The ACCAN believed that ICT affordability was not
about cheap services, but about making sure that the digital divide was not
increased, especially for people on low incomes. The ACCAN believed that internet
access is ‘a practical necessity in daily life.’
The ACCAN’s assessment was that entry level offers for access to the NBN
would be comparable to what is currently available, and that download speeds
would improve. If people have problems affording the Internet now, these would
‘probably’ continue under the NBN. The ACCAN stated that 15 per cent of people
chose to have a mobile service only, but it did not provide a breakdown of why
those people made that choice. The ACCAN believed that ‘a significant
proportion’ of those people had only mobile services because of cost.
The ACCAN was interested in developing a ‘broadband low income measures
scheme’, somewhat like the low income measures for phone services that Telstra
is required to provide. Such a scheme could involve NBN Co providing a discounted
wholesale price to RSPs who would then retail a cheap internet service targeted
at low income earners. Under this proposal, people with health care cards, for
example, would be able to access these services.
As well as special price packages, the ACCAN’s proposed broadband low
income scheme included the provision of public access points especially for
people with lower incomes. There is a need for a greater understanding about
where such access points are used.
The ACCAN noted that, after the rollout of the NBN, the home line budget
service would continue at the current price. Expansion of services for low
income consumers would allow them to choose a supplier, where at present they
have to go to Telstra for access to benefits.
The ACCAN also noted that it receives demands for information about the
NBN. The response to a guide it has prepared demonstrated ‘a great hunger’ for
clear information, and it has been observing NBN Co’s plans for a public
information campaign. There are clearly matters of importance to consumers that
are ‘not very well explained, so that, at present, most of the public lack
In February 2011, the ACCAN had raised with NBN Co a proposal for a
quarterly, high level consumer round table including peak bodies of consumers
and end users. The ACCAN was ‘keen’ to establish such a body, because of the preparations
for the public education campaign. The ACCAN believed that it had ‘significant
expertise’ in this area and wanted to participate in the development and
rollout of that campaign to ensure that it was managed effectively.
The NBN’s importance for regional and remote Australia is so great that
the committee believes it is necessary to draw attention to issues that have
been raised, including some that were included in the First Report.
Benefits for Regional and Remote Australia
The committee was impressed by evidence taken at Broken Hill,
particularly about likely benefits for that region from the NBN. Several
organisations emphasised the technological disadvantages under which people in
the region live and work, providing valuable insights into potential benefits from
the NBN for regional and remote Australia.
Potential benefits in health and education, especially in remote and
regional Australia, have been expressed to the committee many times already in
this review process. Such expressions were often tempered, for example, by
uncertainties about the timing and likely quality of both interim and permanent
A number of issues are yet to be resolved about the provision of
satellite services, including:
n The reliability of
these services in differing climatic conditions.
n The priority to be
given to the 7 per cent of users who will receive fixed wireless or satellite
n The timing of access
to this service for regional and remote communities.
n Any processes to
enable these services to be replaced by fixed wireless or fibre technologies.
Government Readiness for the NBN
While the committee is aware that its development is not complete,
limited information was available on subjects such as Government readiness for
The POAAL presented a case for the extension of EPOS facilities to small
LPOs that, because of insufficient transactions, are prevented from installing
them. It would undoubtedly assist small communities if their post offices were
able to provide a comprehensive range of services. The committee is aware of
the importance to their local communities of small LPOs but, just as these are
restricted by local commercial realities, so AustPost must consider the
potential to upgrade these facilities at each location.
Extending the Fibre Footprint
Communities are understandably interested to know when the NBN will be
connected in specific areas. The committee notes the NBN Co’s view that costing
of extensions to the NBN rollout divert valuable resources from planning the
overall rollout, and that it would only provide costing for locations close to
its rollout via a ‘properly defined process’. Such a process does not yet seem
to have been addressed. The committee believes that it would assist both NBN Co
and interested parties if an effective process were to be defined and
The committee noted NBN Co’s plans for community consultations, and the
material subsequently provided by NBN Co on its PIM activities. It believes
that, at least until July 2011, NBN Co’s consultations with organisations in
the Broken Hill region were deficient. This was demonstrated by the confusion
between the rollout of the Network and the RBBP.
The committee notes NBN Co’s advice that this confusion has been resolved,
but is concerned that similar confusions may have arisen, or may arise in the
future, in other regional and remote communities. The release of the 12-month
rollout plan, and the three-year indicative view of the rollout, may reduce
uncertainty in some areas.
Comments by the ACCAN about the lack of important information about the
NBN support the committee’s concerns about the lack of consultation by NBN Co,
and the need for an effective public education program.
The NBN Co stated that it has plans to inform communities about the
Network ‘prior to, during and after’ its rollout. The NBN Co must have been
aware of confusion about the rollout of the Network in some regional and remote
communities. The committee is concerned that there will be more unnecessary, and
perhaps widespread, confusion if detailed and appropriate plans for
consultations are not devised and released promptly, especially for remote and
regional communities. To this point in the rollout, there seems to have been
more planning than action in this important area of NBN Co’s operations.
The release of the 12-month national NBN rollout plan in October 2011,
in addition to the public education program (to be launched in 2012), show that
the NBN Co is undertaking activities that, perhaps belatedly, will provide
basic information about the rollout. The committee believes that it is
regrettable that more information was not provided to communities earlier in
the rollout process. While it would probably have been subject to changes for
operational reasons, earlier publication of a program of consultations would have
been useful, especially for remote and regional communities.
Ensuring that lower socioeconomic groups have access to the NBN does not
seem to have received the attention it deserves, and needs. Choosing between a
basic broadband account or a broadband low income measure may not be the only
or the best way of ensuring that lower socioeconomic groups have increased access
to the NBN. The committee believes, however, that increasing the access of such
groups to the services to be provided by the NBN requires attention early in
Such a scheme may be the only way to make adequate provision for the
inclusion of lower socioeconomic groups in the benefits of the NBN. Unless
there is a mechanism to do this, the digital divide may increase during the
rollout of the NBN.
Based on the concerns set out above, the committee intends to include the
following issues in its continuing review of the rollout of the NBN:
n The provision of
satellite services, interim and long term, to regional and remote Australia.
n The adequacy of
Government preparations for use of the NBN to deliver services to the community.
n The policy and
process for extending the NBN fibre network.
n The adequacy of NBN
Co’s consultations and its public education campaign, especially in regional
and remote areas, during the rollout of the NBN.
||The committee recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the NBN
Co formalise and publicise its policy for the provision of costing extensions
to its planned National Broadband Network fibre footprint, especially for regional
and remote Australia.
The committee recommends that NBN Co:
n finalise and publicise its plans for community consultation with regional and remote Australia;
n in its report to the committee include:
Þ details of the progress of its consultation plans;
Þ issues raised; and
Þ numbers of participants.
The committee recommends that the Department of Broadband,
Communications and the Digital Economy and the NBN Co:
n undertake a study of methods to improve access for low income
households and other disadvantaged groups to the National Broadband Network
and report its findings to the committee;
n in conducting the study, include examination of community
proposals for measures which would support a basic broadband account and a
broadband low income measure scheme.
22 November 2011