Coverage, Choice and the NBN

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

As a member of the Broadband for the Bush Alliance (B4BA), the NRHA benefits from taking part in its network meetings. At the most recent of these, there were presentations by Matthew Lobb, General Manager, Industry Strategy and Public Policy at Vodafone Australia, and Mark Gregory, FIEAust, RMIT University. Matthew’s presentation, Yesterday’s hero,  focused on how the Universal Service Obligation stifles innovation so that people in rural, regional and remote areas are denied the benefits that arise from having competition and choice in telecommunications.

Coverage and choice are two key markers for success in telecommunications and people in rural and remote communities need a policy setting that supports innovation for better services. The idea that you can have ‘coverage’ or ‘choice’, but not both, is a false dichotomy from a customer and telecommunications policy point of view. To provide improved and innovative telecommunication services, Matthew argued that government needs to ask: What is it that customers want? Only by asking this question will it be that competition, and the innovation and development it drives, can deliver the quality, speed and service reliability that rural and remote communities need and deserve.

Mark Gregory from RMIT gave a more technical presentation on the National Broadband Network (NBN). He spoke of how the project is progressing, the technologies being used and where some of the challenges and opportunities lie for the future. He spoke of how the NBN is more than just providing faster connection speed. Although it will achieve this, the true value is in the NBN being able to manage increased flows in web traffic. He highlighted how the current approach of the government is to make the most of the existing copper network. However, a trade-off exists in that the faster the traffic speed, the less distance a copper network can reliably carry the signal. This is where fixed wireless can be used (like mobile cellular) to beam a direct signal to a fixed location to ensure that high levels of connection clarity are maintained. Community Wi-Fi is one means by which communities are connecting people to the NBN network. Microwave or satellite technologies are able to support those in remote settings to access connections fast and reliable enough to host VOIP services such as Skype.

He warned, rather ominously, that the NBN rollout is already behind schedule and that the project will likely to take the timespan of two or more governments to complete. The risks with delivering a project of this scale over successive governments include cost blowout, further delays or alteration of the project scope. This would mean people in rural and remote Australia would have to wait even longer for the benefits of faster, more reliable broadband.

For more information on the presentations please click on Broadband for the Bush Alliance Network meeting 23 April 2015 where you can access the presentation slides.