Chapter 5 Services in Regional and Remote Australia
In its Second Review, the committee reported on access to broadband
services in regional and remote areas in Australia and made recommendations on the
impending delivery of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Since tabling its
report in November 2011, significant milestones have been reached in the
delivery of services to regional and remote Australia and public discussion is
increasingly focussed on how these communities can maximise the benefits of new
All three technologies, fibre, wireless and satellite, will be used to rollout
the NBN to regional and remote Australia. In accordance with the Government’s Statement
of Expectations and the NBN Co Corporate Plan 2011-2013, the ‘last 7%’
of premises that do not fall within the fibre footprint will be serviced by
either a fixed wireless or satellite connection. These technologies are used to
reach areas of low population density that make it ‘both difficult and
expensive to build infrastructure’ to these premises. 
Consequently, the ‘last 7%’ are towns located in regional and remote Australia.
This chapter discusses all three technologies in turn and canvasses the
key opportunities, challenges and concerns that regional and remote Australia
will face in receiving high-speed broadband. The chapter notes that some
concerns are amplified depending on the technology that will service these
Seventy per cent of regional Australia will receive fibre.
This section presents evidence received by the committee from regional and
remote Australia on how the NBN will affect their local communities.
Following an informative visit to Broken Hill in New South Wales in July
2011, the committee elected to travel to another regional centre for its Third
Review. To mirror the increasing public discussion about how and why high-speed
broadband will change regional Australia, the committee elected to visit a
regional town where the rollout was nearing completion and such debate had
concrete, direct relevance.
On 30 April 2012, the committee travelled to Willunga for a site
inspection and a public hearing.
Case Study: Willunga, South Australia
Willunga was announced as one of the five first-release sites, covered
940 premises with 91 per cent of properties consenting to the installation of
fibre optic cables to their premises. Commercial services have
been available to residents since 30 September 2011.
Willunga was chosen by the NBN Co as a first-release site to demonstrate
and test the fibre network’s design in a deployment area with dispersed housing.
According to the NBN Co, ‘Willunga represents some of the diversity of housing
types and situations that the NBN Co will encounter across Australia in the volume
rollout’. Willunga was also the
only first release site where NBN Co installed new pits and pipes rather than
use existing ducts.
During its inspection, the committee viewed a fibre distribution hub, a
multiport and zone terminal and the main joint. Figure 5.1 shows the street
infrastructure that supports the NBN fibre network.
Figure 5.1 Inspection of Willunga, South Australia
Inspection, 30 April 2012, Willunga, South Australia
As Willunga is one of only five sites on mainland Australia with a fibre
connection, the local community was eager to discuss the burgeoning
opportunities that the new infrastructure will bring for regional Australia. Notably,
the Willunga Business and Tourism Association stated:
... we are still in a pilot situation. We are still learning
what this National Broadband Network, the technology, the infrastructure is, as
well as the errors that can occur.
Similarly, Office & Image, a local business with a live NBN
It is still very early days in setting up the foundation of
the NBN, which bring lots of excitement and possibilities for the businesses
and community in Willunga.
Strategies of Local Government
The City of Onkaparinga Council (the Council) is South Australia’s
largest council and services both urban and regional communities in the region.
The Council covers 68,000 premises, with 168,000 residents, and is developing
an array of programs and services to capitalise on new opportunities.
This includes preparing a new long-term digital economy strategy. Its Chief
Executive Officer stated:
The first step [of preparing the new strategy] will be a
visioning workshop, which will be held in June . It will start with a
visioning of what a fully enabled NBN region, could, should and would look like
and perform in 15 years time. Then we will be preparing a five-year
implementation plan and rollout one-year plans from there.
The Council is also developing programs that will bring immediate
outcomes. The Council stated:
... we continue to work with the implementation of the
Digital Enterprise program, which is funded by the federal Department of
Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; the implementation of the
Digital Hubs program; and the implementation of the Digital Local Government
program, which will focus on one aspect of our business—delivering development
application services online, which is a big move for council, with a focus on
videoconferencing, also at the Willunga hub.
In May 2011, Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband,
Communications and the Digital Economy launched the National Digital Economy
Strategy. One of its eight goals is to improve online government service
delivery and engagement so that, by 2020, four out of five Australians will
choose to engage with government through online services.
Working towards this goal, the Government announced the $17.1 million Digital
Local Government program (the DLG program) providing funding to local
governments in first release sites. Following an initial round, an expanded
second round was open to 20 local government councils and closed on 31 March
The aim of the DLG program is to encourage the development of online
services that are replicable and scalable, and that other local governments
across Australia can adapt for their purposes. According to the Department of
Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), the program ‘has the
potential to encourage a step change in the quality, availability and speed of
local government services’.
Under a DLG grant, the Onkaparinga Council is:
... developing an online process for preliminary advice,
lodgement, assessment and enforcement of development applications, including
high-definition videoconferencing sessions with council’s development services
staff and applicants.
Other regional councils who received grants under the DLG program are
working to develop online services including a video-based online emergency
management system, and video-conferencing systems for web-based interactive
engagement between councillors and the public. However, most grants
allocated were to assist local governments to design online services for
development applications similar to that of the Onkaparinga Council.
Another focus of the Council is the development public access points
(libraries and communities centres) and e-literacy within their wards:
Libraries are probably the greatest source of council
goodwill to the community. What the NBN provided has just added onto that
goodwill already. The Forward IT program that we did in conjunction with the
Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology...
indicated that people really prefer to work through an area they trust, such as
a library, and will continue to do so. It has provided the library service with
an additional way of dealing with the community or providing a service to the
The capacity of high-speed broadband to bring new business
opportunities, open new markets and increase commercial efficiency is
substantial. Economic modelling shows that regional Australia stands to benefit
more than metropolitan areas from increased internet connectivity. On average,
a 10 per cent increase in connectivity would raise regional output by 0.53 per
cent compared with a 0.38 per cent increase in metropolitan areas.
The Onkaparinga Council highlighted the changing industries which
regional areas support and stated:
South Adelaide has seen some major shifts in its economic fortunes
since the mid-2000s with the closure of some of its largest businesses, Exxon
Mobil and Mitsubishi. Our response to that was to prepare the Southern Adelaide
Economic Development Plan, which focused on diversifying and modernising the
economy. This will be based more and more on trade in ideas and knowledge, and
high-speed broadband is critical component of this.
Multiple witnesses commented that Australian and global demand (from both
the consumer and from a business perspective) is moving more and more to an online
platform. The Council was of the
view that ‘the massive expected global growth in online business will be a
significant catalyst for new business investment, formation and transformation
into the 21st century’.
Since the committee’s visit, the Council, in partnership with the
Willunga Business and Tourism Association, the Southern Success Business
Enterprise Centre and the Onkaparinga Exporters Club has launched a series of
workshops. The program aims to provide advice to small and medium-size
businesses and not-for-profit organisations on:
... taking advantage of the NBN through such things as
improving their online presence, transacting online, expanding their market and
reach into the community and better servicing customers.
The Council was awarded $411,950 under the Digital Enterprise Program to
develop such services in their community.
Customer Support in Transition
Importantly, Mr Thomas Laing reported his initially unsatisfying
experience of connecting to the NBN following its rollout in Willunga and
In my own case I was really frustrated. I waited until
September-October. I was with Telstra and I had no response and no indication
from them about things. I went to iiNet. They were not able to service me
straight away. That was in October. I went back to them in December and they kicked
it into gear in January. If [ISPs] had had a tech bloke on the ground, it
might have got sorted out a lot more quickly.
Further, Mr Laing also commented on the download speeds offered and
We are on the 25/5 [25Mbps downlink/5Mbps uplink] plan and
that is not much better than dial-up or what we were on with ADSL. So the
promises about speed and reliability are suspect and questionable. But, as I
say, those who are on the high-speed plans – the 50 or 100 plans - are not
complaining at all.
As more consumers are connected to the NBN, the committee hopes that the
rate of competition within the sector will increase so that affordable,
high-speed plans that maximise the speed of the network will be offered.
Fixed Wireless Services
The NBN Co Wireless Access Service (WAS) consists of a number of
components that will be used by access seekers to supply services to retail
service providers (RSPs) or end-users. These include a network terminating unit
(the NBN box that is located within individual premises), a base station
antennae located externally on the premises, and a wireless access point of
interconnection (a wireless tower). Figure 5.2 shows the different components.
Figure 5.2 Overview of the NBN Co Wireless Product
Source NBN Co,
Corporate Plan 2011-2013, page 95.
The NBN Co Corporate Plan 2011-2013 identifies that the WAS will deliver
speeds of 12 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1Mbps upstream, and
become available in the second half of 2012, with full rollout of the service
occurring progressively over the period 2012-2015.
The deployment of the wireless network is scheduled to be completed by mid 2015.
Importantly, there has been a degree of public confusion about whether
the WAS will operate in similar ways to current mobile telephone wireless
services. This confusion is understandable as the average consumer is unlikely
to be aware of the infrastructure supporting their service, and the perception
that a ‘wireless’ service will grant ‘mobility’. The WAS will operate as a
fixed wireless service.
A fixed wireless service differs from mobile wireless networks as a
fixed service is designed to support a dedicated number of premises, each with
a wireless receiver affixed externally to the property. This enables the
delivery of a more predictable level of service performance to premises compared
to a mobile wireless network which is focussed on mobility.
On the issue of speed on the WAS, the Berrigan Shire Council relayed
information provided to them from the NBN Co and stated:
They said they would be able to do everything that would be
likely to be required for our community. ... They said that should be more than
sufficient for what you need in terms of the speed we require.
The NBN Co confirmed:
The service will be identical everywhere in the wireless
footprint—as close as you can get with technology. There will be no difference
whether a wireless service is delivered in remote Australia or if it is
delivered just outside a city.
In August 2011, the NBN Co announced the first release sites for the WAS:
Geraldton (Western Australia), Toowoomba (Queensland), Tamworth (New South Wales),
Ballarat (Victoria) and Darwin (Northern Territory).
The Shareholder Ministers’ second NBN rollout Performance Report (the Performance
Report) stated that as of 31 December 2011, the NBN Co had commenced
construction in twelve wireless first release sites.
As at 31 December 2011 the NBN Co had work under way for 1,952 premises
in the wireless footprint. The NBN Co defines ‘work under way’ as the ‘number
of premises in rollout areas currently undergoing construction activities,
where NBN Co has issued a Contract Instruction to a Subcontractor, but it is
not deemed passed’.
The WAS will require the use of approximately 2300 masts or wireless monopole
towers. Where possible, the NBN Co has committed to using existing
telecommunications masts and any new constructions will require development
approval from the relevant local government authority.
As the wireless access service enters the next phase, the NBN Co has
commenced trials for RSPs. The NBN Co Wireless Trial Agreement provides for RSPs
to participate in the two test and trial phases of the WAS. The first phase involved
a business readiness testing phase in Armidale, occurring in February and March
2012. Twelve RSPs submitted requests to participate in the first test, with
five providers selected to participate based on a structured process and ‘rigorous
A second phase began on 2 April 2012 and will run until 30 September
2012. The second test is available to all access seekers. The second trial will
occur in an expanded number of first release sites (Armidale, Tamworth and
Toowoomba) and allows both NBN Co and access seekers to test and verify their
products, systems and processes.
Satellite Access Service
The NBN Co Satellite Access Service (SAS) will include product features
such as increased capacity and return path speeds that are designed to support
large file transfers and real time video communications.
The Performance Report stated:
The satellites... will provide around three per cent of
Australian premises outside of areas covered by fibre and fixed‐wireless technologies
with access to high‐speed
broadband. The satellites are designed to provide initial peak speeds of 12/1
Mbps [12 Mbps download/1Mbps uplink].
Similar to the WAS, the SAS consists of a number of components which are
used by access seekers to provide a service to consumers. The two major
components of the SAS are the space segment and the ground segment. In addition
there is also local infrastructure installed on each of these premises.
The satellites will provide service to remote Australia, as well as
coastal islands and external territories including Norfolk Island, Lord Howe
Island, Cocos and Keeling Islands, Christmas Island and Macquarie Island in
Antarctica. These services will be provided to the ‘final 3 per cent’ of
premises falling outside of the fibre or fixed wireless footprints.
The NBN Co expects that the number of premises falling within the
satellite servicing area will grow from 332 000 (current) to 399 000 by 2025.
The NBN Co Corporate Plan 2011-2013 estimates the following cumulative take up
n 106 000 by financial
year (FY) 2021
n 120 000 by FY 2025
n 139 000 by FY 2030.
Reflecting an increase in the number of premises in the satellite
footprint, the NBN Co released revised cumulative take up forecasts of:
n 129 000 by FY 2021
n 144 000 by FY 2025
n 170 000 by FY 2030.
According to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
(ACCAN), the SAS will provide better services to consumers. The ACCAN stated:
Certainly they provide a more reliable and faster speed,
based on the advertised information.
However, the Performance Report clarified:
Speeds actually achieved by retail customers (end users) will
depend on a number of factors including the quality of their equipment and in‐premises connection,
the broadband plans offered by their Access Seeker and how their Access Seeker
designs its network to cater for multiple end users.
On 8 February 2012, the Prime Minister and the Minister for
Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy announced that Space
Systems/Loral had been awarded the contract for the build of the two satellites
of the SAS space segment.  The design for the
spacecraft was developed by the NBN Co, with refined technical requirements
developed ‘through detailed engagement and high level design with participating
The contracting process for the satellite infrastructure is discussed in
Figure 5.3 Space Segment of the NBN Co Satellite
Co, ‘NBN Co selects Space Systems/Loral for communications satellites’ Media Release,
8 February 2012.
The satellites will individually be able to service 200,000 premises in
regional and remote areas of Australia and its external territories. The two
satellites will be able to ‘load share’ to enable optimal
services, speeds and reliability.
As the NBN Co is building a nationally-owned, wholesale-only network,
the dimensioning of the satellites will differ to that of commercial operators.
The NBN Co provided the following evidence on the dimensioning capacities of
It is not so much speeds; it is a question of the greater the
number of subscribers you have. How many gigabytes per month can be delivered
reliably to them? ...What we have done is taken a different approach, which is
to say: given the coverage, given the number of users we expect to be on this
and given the satellite capacity, how do you make sure you manage that capacity
so that people in the bush will get a good service?
The satellites will be launched separately, with the first launching in
the first quarter of 2015 and the second being launched at a later date. The
NBN Co is yet to determine when the second satellite will be launched.
Services will then be available to consumers by mid 2015.
Orbital Slot Allocation
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is responsible for
international cooperation in the use of telecommunications and the
radiofrequency spectrum, and more specifically, is the international mechanism
coordinating the allocation of satellites’ orbital slots.
The ITU is required to allocate spectrum, and register frequency
allocation, orbital positions ‘to avoid harmful interference between radio
stations of different countries’. This task is based on
the regulatory procedures of coordination, notification and registration. Under
this system, telecommunications companies launching satellites apply to the
ITU’s Radio Communication Bureau and lodge a request for a specific orbital
slot. It is then open to other members of the ITU to lodge objections to that
specific slot being allocated to the applying member.
The DBCDE commented on this process and stated:
The ITU process is a coordination process for people to
register objections ... [I]f there is any suggestion that another party has an
interest in this then negotiations will occur but the satellite development
process will not be stopped.
This is an administrative coordination process designed to
ensure you do not end up with conflicting outcomes rather than one in which you
can obtain an approval and sell it to another party.
The NBN Co has lodged coordination applications with the ITU for four
orbital slots for its two commissioned satellites. 
However, these slots are yet to be secured from the ITU. According to the
Government, the confirmation process ‘continues with both domestic and
international operators’. 
The absence of formal allocation from the ITU is controversial as the
final orbital slot and frequency allocation affects the design and construction
of the satellites. The NBN Co commented:
You need to tie down the VSAT uplink and downlink frequencies
as well as the gateway uplink and downlink frequencies and you need to know
where the satellites are going to be located. That absolutely impacts the radio
In awarding the satellite construction contract to Space Systems/Loral,
the NBN Co has proceeded on the basis that the orbital slots and frequencies
applied for will be allocated. The NBN Co was unable to confirm that the
satellites will not be launched until the slots have been formally allocated.
The NBN Co stated:
No, I am not prepared to say that. ... If we came to the
position where the formalities were not completely finalised, we would probably
have a discussion with the ITU about the possibility of launching.
The NBN Co also confirmed that in the event that an orbital slot is not
obtained, it would contract to launch the satellites (a contract that is yet to
be awarded). The NBN Co also stated
... is not aware of any satellite operator’s launch provider
being stopped from launching their Satellite by the ITU.
Further, the NBN Co stated:
It is not unprecedented that [a telecommunications company]
will have a satellite in orbit before the formality of the process is complete.
We do not anticipate that ... We expect formalities will completed well before
we launch any satellites. ... We expect that process, the ITU coordination
process, to be finished well before a launch date.
The effect on the anticipated launch date of 2015 and the cost of
additional works on the satellite is unclear, though the NBN Co stated:
It is not a question of scrapping the satellite and starting
Gateway Segment/Ground Stations
The second major component of the SAS is the gateway segment. The SAS
will require approximately ten ground stations built around Australia to
receive and transmit data signals. Data is sent to the
satellite from a large ground station transmitter, and the satellite ‘bounces’
this information down to the end-users’ very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite
The gateway segment will be completed before the launch of the
satellites in mid 2015.
On the progress of the ground stations’ construction and development, the
Performance Report stated that as of 31 December 2011:
The ground systems and customer equipment RFT [requests for
tender] responses were also received and were being evaluated. Feasibility,
quantity surveying and preliminary town planning work commenced on a list of
potential radio frequency (RF) gateway sites across the country.
Since the Performance Report, Merimbula, on the New South Wales (NSW)
far south coast was announced as the first satellite ground station gateway.
Construction of the facility is due to begin in 2013, and is scheduled to be
operational in 2015. The smaller town of
Wolumla, located 15 kilometres north-west of Merimbula, will be the site for
six satellite dishes. 
Significantly, the NBN Co explained its reasons for selecting Merimbula
as the location of the first satellite ground segment and stated:
Merimbula was chosen for a number of reasons: the climate is
perfect for our needs. It’s also located close to reliable power and other
infrastructure including the NBN’s core fibre transit network.
The issue of climate and weather conditions as a potential impediment to
reliable high-speed internet was first raised in the committee’s Second Review
by M&S Consultants Pty Ltd. M&S Consultants Pty Ltd stated that Ka-band
satellites suffer from ‘rain fade’, and therefore may not be suitable for humid
regions as signals cannot penetrate areas of high precipitation.
In May 2012, the NBN Co also announced Bourke in the north-west of NSW as
being the second location for the SAS ground station gateway. Again, the NBN Co
referred to Bourke’s ‘ideal climate’ as being a factor when selecting the site.
The facility in Bourke will comprise of ‘a single storey building with up to
three 13-metre-in-diametre satellite dishes’. 
When making both announcements, the NBN Co stressed that the selection
of sites was done ‘following extensive consultation’ with the relevant local
government councils. The announcement of
Merimbula and Bourke as prospective sites came before development applications
for their construction has been approved by local governments. The NBN Co have
committed to providing local residents with more information.
Infrastructure on Premises
The SAS will also require individual premises to have roof-mounted
receivers (VSAT dishes) installed so to receive signals from the satellites.
Images of this infrastructure are included in Figure 5.4.
Similar equipment is needed for those consumers accessing the NBN Co’s
Interim Satellite Service (ISS) (discussed below). Importantly, for those
premises that have ISS-accessible local infrastructure installed, this
equipment will need to be replaced to access the (long-term) SAS due to the
technology differences between the two services. 
Figure 5.4 Roof-mounted National Broadband Network
Source NBN Co, ‘Gallery: What
an NBN satellite installation looks like’ <www.nbnco.com.au> viewed 28
Interim Satellite Service
Whilst the infrastructure discussed above is under construction, the NBN
Co is providing its ISS on existing third-party owned satellites with speeds of
6Mbps download and 1Mbps uplink. The committee has previously reported on the
ISS in its Second Review.
Launched on 1 July 2011, the ISS trial phase was completed in November
2011. As at 31 December 2011, the ISS covers 165,000 premises, with 2197
premises actively serviced by RSPs.  The Performance Report
also provided the following updates:
n to ensure mitigation
of any implementation issues, since launch, close monitoring of the product
content and performance of the satellite service;
n as at 31 December
2011, there were seven RSPs selling services over NBN Co’s interim satellite
network and there were 2197 active premises; and
n additional satellite
capacity was commissioned by using the IPStar satellite. 
On the issue of affordability of services, the ACCAN stated:
... as the interim satellite service, for example, becomes a
permanent satellite service, the ISPs are going to be able to offer better
Although access to the ISS is limited to certain criteria (residents and
small businesses located in regional and remote Australia who are unable to
access metro-equivalent broadband), it may be this criteria that is dissuading
otherwise eligible applicants from submitting requests.
The public education and marketing of the ISS could be an early
opportunity for eligible regional and remote communities to begin the
transition envisaged under the National Digital Economy Strategy. It is also an
opportunity for the NBN Co to begin its marketing of the (long-term) SAS with
connected end-users gaining direct experience in faster broadband and the
changes and challenges this brings to community.
Telephony, Broadband and Black Spots
An ongoing concern raised by regional and remote Australia is the
existence of black spots, both in relation to the accessibility of broadband
services and the reliability of mobile telephone coverage. In relation to broadband
services, the DBCDE stated:
As NBN Co's next-generation satellite service provides a
safeguard to all Australian premises not receiving a fibre or wireless service,
there will be no broadband 'black spots' when the NBN is deployed.
More importantly, there appears to be widespread misunderstanding that
the NBN rollout will also provide an upgrade to telephony services around
Australia. For example, submissions to the 2011–12 Regional Telecommunications
Independent Review raised concerns that existing ‘black spots’ in mobile telephone
and broadband coverage will not be resolved under the NBN rollout.
Although premises in the fibre footprint will see a transfer of
telephony from copper cables to fibre, and the quality of voice over internet
protocol (VOIP) services will improve on all three technologies (fibre, fixed
wireless and satellite), existing fixed-line
telephony services in areas outside of the fibre rollout will not be altered
under the NBN rollout.
Existing infrastructure will provide fixed telephone line connections. Under
an agreement between Telstra and the Government, commencing on 1 July 2012,
Telstra is required to maintain its existing copper network in areas outside of
NBN Co’s fibre to the premises network to deliver the standard telephone
service. This is Telstra’s Universal Service Obligation.
As a fixed-line-broadband-only initiative, the NBN rollout does not
affect mobile-phone coverage in central-business districts, regional
communities nor remote townships. The DBCDE stated:
Terrestrial mobile phone networks have expanded significantly
in recent years – and coverage is now claimed to reach about 99 per cent of the
Australian population. However, given Australia’s vast size, this only means
about 25 per cent of the actual landmass is covered. For the most part the recent
extension of mobile coverage has been based on commercial decisions by
carriers. There is currently no government funded program for the extension of
mobile phone coverage. 
The DBCDE foreshadowed a possible use of the NBN Co’s infrastructure by
the sector and stated:
In terms of the NBN rollout improving mobile phone access,
any new towers that NBN Co may construct for its fixed-wireless network could
be accessed by mobile carriers to expand their footprint. NBN Co’s
next-generation fixed wireless and satellite services will support Voice over
Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services. However, as these services are
fixed services they will not support mobile telephony.
Maintenance and Upgrades
Since the initial concept of a nationally owned wholesale network was
first announced, the flexibility of the network design to accommodate upgrades,
and maintenance of the network as the infrastructure ages, have become
important community issues.
The lifespan of the equipment of the fibre network (not including the
fibre-optic cable itself) is anticipated to be 15 to 20 years, with upgrades
expected before the end of this timeframe.
The NBN Co stated,
The design of the passive fibre access network is adaptable
and flexible due to the use of International Standards for all of the
connectivity points, and the provision of additional fibre to allow for the
seamless integration of advancements in Passive Optical Network [PON]
transmission technologies without major interruption to the operating end-users.
Similarly, the design of the active network follows a ‘modular approach’
where sub-systems are adaptable and flexible due to the use of International
Standards for all of the connectivity points. The active network provides for additional
capabilities to allow for the seamless integration of advancements in PON
transmission technologies without major interruption to the operating
If commenced, the NBN Co foreshadowed that such an upgrade would likely target
the delivery of faster speeds. The NBN Co stated:
For example, the [Gigabit Passive Optical Networking] GPON,
at the moment, is 2½ gigabits per second down, 1.25 gigabits per second up.
Within three or four years it will be 10 gigabits per second down, five
gigabits per second up, and then it will probably multiply by four again. So at
some point in time we will obviously introduce that new capability and, at
another point in time, we may find that, if demand increases, we will go and
retrofit the equipment.
Importantly, such upgrades to the fibre network will be demand driven,
rather than applied ubiquitously over the entire network.
In the rollout of the fixed wireless network, a core expectation of the
NBN Co, as provided in the Government’s Statement of Expectations, is that
it will monitor technological advances across fixed wireless platforms in order
to upgrade its products.
A similar approach to upgrading the satellite service is likely to be
pursued. The Performance Report stated:
Over time, it is expected that further services will be
supported [on the Satellite Access Service] as NBN Co upgrades its networks and
through other technological improvements.
Extending the Fibre Footprint
In its First and Second Reviews, the committee reported on the
applications by private entities, individuals, and local and state governments
to extend the fibre footprint to communities and premises that are expected to
receive services via the fixed wireless or satellite infrastructure. This
remains an issue.
Such concerns were raised by the Regional Development Australia
–Northern Inland NSW which stated:
... for some communities it would be a backward step to go
from ADSL2 to a wireless service. There are a number of examples in our region
[that] do not reach the threshold to receive fibre. There is an argument that
that particular population threshold could be relaxed such that homes and
businesses that already have an ADSL connection through copper should be
receiving a fibre service otherwise they risk taking a backward step.
Other participants in the committee’s inquiry, including the Berrigan
Shire Council, the Redland City Council and Tatachilla Lutheran College, voiced
The issue of extending the fibre footprint exposes the general community
concern about the difference in quality between the services available on the
fibre network to those available on the fixed wireless or the satellite
services. For example, the Berrigan Shire stated:
We are particularly concerned to make sure that we do not
again fall behind the rest of rural Australia in particular by not having
access probably to the top level of connection under the NBN. 
Responding to the committee’s recommendation in its Second Report
calling for the formalisation and publication of the policy for extending the
fibre footprint, on 1 February 2012 the NBN Co released the ‘Network Extension
Quote Method for the Tasmanian Trial’.
The interim policy details the methodology of the NBN Co when developing
quotes to extend the fibre network during the Network Extension trial in
Tasmania. The trial will be for selected properties that bordered sites of
Triabunna, Sorrell, Deloraine, St Helens and South Hobart in Tasmania. 
The Ministers also affirmed that the NBN Co’s Network Planning and
Design team will undertake studies to identify the incremental cost per
premises to provide fibre. However, as NBN Co has
stressed previously, and restated by the Shareholder Ministers:
... preparing these costings around individual propositions
is a significant diversion of resources. Therefore, NBN Co is only intending to
do costings for locations contiguous with the rollout and when an application
under a properly defined process is received. The network extension process
needs to be scheduled to fit within the overall construction timetable for an
area, preferably around the finalisation of network design documentation, so
that the overall costs of network extension on both end-users and the company
are minimised and the process is able to be accommodated in an efficient and effective
The outcomes of the network extension trials were not clear at the time
Fibre and Regional Australia
The committee commends the energy and enthusiasm of regional communities
for seizing the opportunities and confronting the challenges that high-speed
broadband will create. Local governments, businesses, schools and residents are
at the forefront of setting the direction, and scoping the parameters of
e-governance, e-education, and e-commerce in Australia for the future.
As the national discussion progresses to how the NBN will transform
Australia’s digital economy, and precisely what activities the infrastructure
will support, it is imperative that those communities that are setting the
parameters and scoping the direction of what the NBN will bring, engage in
greater connectivity with their counterparts both in Australia and around the
First release sites in particular, are at the forefront of defining what
types of services, activities and applications the NBN will bring to
individuals, families, businesses, local governments, schools and hospitals.
These communities will set the example for later-connecting communities, and
their successes, challenges and the lessons learned should be shared and
communicated among the network of NBN-connected areas.
Consequently, it is important that councils and community organisations
alike work collaboratively and establish mechanisms for the exchange of ideas
that will assist them to be e-ready once they become connected to the network.
The committee notes the role that the Australian Local Government Association
could play in this regard, and the national leadership required of the
It is concerning that consumers are experiencing problems with retail
service providers such as connection activation delays and dropouts. As the
rollout progresses, the volume of customers – whose relationship is with RSPs,
not with the NBN Co – will significantly increase, placing greater consumer
expectations upon those providing services. However, the committee expects that
as RSPs become more familiar with the infrastructure and the types of consumer
support that is required, the consumer experience will also improve.
Fixed Wireless Services
Within the WAS footprint, user-mobility has been compromised for the
guarantee of consistent speed within the wireless cell. Yet the NBN Co and
industry see the absence of mobility throughout the fixed line network as being
complementary to industry-operated mobile wireless services.
Community clarification of the distinction between fixed wireless and
mobile wireless networks is particularly important as the rollout of the WAS
progresses from design and build, to a phase where consumers are beginning to
seek services from RSPs.
The committee notes possible expectations in the community that the
fixed wireless and satellite services will support certain activities, such as
mobile roaming. It is important that all communities in the WAS and SAS
footprints are aware that basic telephony services and mobile telephony will
continue on current infrastructure, or alternatively, a service provider might
offer VOIP services.
Providing this clarity to residents and businesses in these areas is
particularly important in light of the extensive public education initiatives
for communities in the fibre footprint that will focus on the positive steps
all consumers will need to take in this regard.
Reliability of Satellite Signals
While climate was a consideration for the site selection of the ground
station satellite, there are still questions surrounding the penetrability, and
hence reliability, of the SAS. This raises concerns about the quality of SAS
operability into the future, which may have a negative impact on the NBN satellite
network. The committee will continue to monitor this issue.
Take Up of the Interim Satellite Service
It is concerning that in the last reporting period, the take up rate of
the ISS is less than 1.5 per cent of premises available for services. This may
indicate either a delay in installations to those end-users seeking services,
or low-levels of public awareness of the service. A third possibility is that
residents and businesses eligible for the ISS do not believe the service is
appropriate for their needs, budgets or daily activities.
Telephony, Broadband and Black Spots
The committee asked the DBCDE if the NBN infrastructure could be
reconfigured to allow improvements in mobile telephony services. In its
response the DBCDE did not answer this question.
Rather, the DBCDE referred the committee to satellite mobile phones as ‘an
alternate means to accessing mobile communications’ and stated that the
Government’s Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme exists to improve the affordability
of these handsets.
The lack of clarity surrounding the role of the NBN in supporting
telephony, particularly mobile telephony, may lead to unfounded expectations
within the community. Given that telephony in many regional and remote areas of
Australia is still inferior to what is available in urban centres, this is
The security of the network was discussed in Chapter 4. However, it is
important to note the role that maintenance plays in providing a secure
environment for end-users.
Whether the Australian workforce has the skills set to be able to carry
out maintenance works is an issue that the committee will look to examine in
its next review.
Extending the Fibre Footprint
Concerns about the extension of the fibre footprint suggests reticence
on part of the community that a logical and equitable approach is taken by the
NBN Co when deciding which communities are deemed to receive fibre and those
that will receive fixed wireless or satellite services.
In its Second Report, the committee recommended that the NBN Co
formalise and publicise its policy for the provision of costing extensions to
the fibre footprint for the communities falling within WAS and SAS areas. The
NBN Co has issued what appears to be an interim policy for Tasmanian
communities seeking an extension of the fibre footprint.
Given the size and complexity associated with such applications, a trial
of this system and policy has merit. However, this policy must be formalised
and also made available to communities on mainland Australia. Importantly, as the
fixed wireless and satellite services are progressing to a construction phase,
these communities seeking an extension to the fibre footprint will be placed under
a significant time restraint.
Although the NBN Co’s approach may be a logical and resource efficient,
the point at which the NBN Co consults with communities is at the final stage
of the development of network design, leaving little time for communities to
develop such applications. Many individuals or businesses learn of the decision
upon the NBN Co’s announcement – a point at which a decision appears to be
final and not open to further negotiation despite what has been stated by the Shareholder
The committee recommends that the NBN Co revise its
terminology and language to clarify community understanding of what the three
National Broadband Network services can and cannot support, to enable the community
to prepare for the network’s services appropriately and become fully informed.
The committee recommends that the NBN Co include in its
web-based interactive rollout map specific information on the provision of
voice services for communities in fixed wireless and satellite access areas.
The committee recommends that the NBN Co finalise its policy
for the provision of costing extensions to its planned National Broadband
Network fibre footprint:
publicise the policy and its process for communities in the fixed wireless
and satellite service areas; and
the point of announcing new areas within these footprints, ensure that the
policy is attached to media releases and known to the relevant local