Rural and regional Internet users are being short-changed again by a backflip that Labor has done with the National Broadband Network.
The kind of treatment rural and regional users receive
This is an example of continual second-rate treatment of rural and regional citizens when it comes to telecommunications.
Here, I remember living in the country in the 1980s when there was continual poor-quality telephone service. Here there was a poor signal-to-noise ratio with the phone line to where I lived at and this usually manifested in a lot of crackling through the call as well as frequent incidents of crosstalk which we often described as “crossed lines”.
As well, if rural users want to contact services in metropolitan areas, they have to pay long-distance telephone rates for these calls. This is unless the service provider sets up a freecall or local-cost telephone number for people to ring in on.
Continuously, country users are limited to dial-up Internet and this is often at a substandard rate with slower-than-standard data speeds and longer connection-establishment times.
As well, country users cannot benefit from broadband because they are usually out of the proper “range” for ADSL services. Therefore they end up on the substandard dial-up services. If they are in “range” for ADSL service, they end up with substandard ADSL service.
What is happening with NBN
The Labor federal government had built their election campaign on the back of the National Broadband Network. This was to have the same cost of service across all of Australia even though the service will be provided “to the door” using fibre, wireless or satellite technologies.
Now they have done a backflip on this promise by not guaranteeing a price structure that requires the Internet service on this network to be the same for metropolitan, regional and rural areas. This is based around the excuse that the wireless technology that would be needed for the regional and rural areas will cost more to set up, especially in licensing costs.
I have seen some successful operations in the UK where next-generation broadband services have been rolled out to some rural villages in a cost-effective manner by local companies. Here, they had worked on the local deployments using technologies like VDSL-driven fibre-to-the-cabinet yet allowed the systems to be future-proof for fibre-to-the-premises.
The use of “anti-competition” measures in the NBN legislation would make it hard for a “go-getter” company to do what companies like Rutland Telecom have done in enabling rural towns with next-generation broadband.
Supporting the rural Internet needs properly
What needs to happen is for these measures to be adjusted to expedite service delivery to rural areas and facilitate the NBN or government to support local entities in deploying such technology to rural and regional areas. Then could then be able to provide retail service in to these towns or lease-back the infrastructure to the NBN for wholesale service provisioning.
As well, if there is an easement required on a property for running fibre trunks in the NBN infrastructure, the issue of fibre branches connecting “to the door” of the affected as well as adjacent properties from this trunk should be looked at.
The NBN doesn’t even look at the issue of a genuine “universal service obligation” concerning broadband and there needs to be activity concerning this issue. This includes a minimum standard or service and a maximum price for the service similar to what is being prescribed in Europe. The costs could be offset via a universal service fund which could be supported either through line spending or a direct levy like one on service-provider turnover.
It therefore seems to me that the Australian government have lost the plot when it come to assuring competitive Internet access and a universal standard of Internet service in the country. They need to look at what other established countries are doing for when it comes to these factors and implement these issues effectively.