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Broken Broadband for Broken Hill

The NBN Rollout (ABC Radio - 'PM' Fri 04th Nov)



MPs in some outback communities say it'll be almost a decade before they get the National Broadband Network.

The Federal Liberal member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, says the town of Broken Hill is one of them.

Her party's Leader, Tony Abbott, calls the NBN a telecommunications white elephant and has promised to axe it.

Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: The rollout of the $36 billion National Broadband Network is raising the ire of some isolated communities.

While the laying of fibre optic cables from Broken Hill to Mildura is almost complete, the Liberal member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, says it will be nine years before the far-west region of New South Wales can get access to the network.

She says this will be a major disadvantage to the almost 20,000 people who live in the outback centre.

SUSSAN LEY: We have the University of Sydney Department of Rural Health, we have the Royal Flying Doctor, School of the Air; and all we are promised is a lousy 12 megabits per second with either wireless or a slightly upgraded satellite. It isn't good enough.

NANCE HAXTON: Given that you are a Liberal member for the seat of Farrer and the Liberals have been quite open in their opposition to the NBN why are you making this stand, wanting it to come quicker to Broken Hill?

SUSSAN LEY: Look we're not in government, I didn't promise this. If there's upwards of $37 billion of taxpayers' money going into this thing, then I want the constituents that I represent to benefit. And I want the Government to keep its promises.

NANCE HAXTON: The National Broadband Network will connect 93 per cent of homes and business in Australia to high speed broadband by fibre optic cables, and the remaining seven per cent by satellite and wireless options.

The company behind the design, construction and rollout of the network is NBN Co.

NBN Co. refused to be interviewed on air for PM but issued a statement saying decisions on which communities are connected first are driven by engineering considerations.

The company says the complete rollout of the network will take 10 years, but they have not released details beyond the first year.

But Sussan Ley says by the time Broken Hill and other outback communities get access to the NBN, the technology will probably be out-of-date.

She says rollout details should be more transparent, so all communities around Australia can know when they will come online.

SUSSAN LEY: Everyone, wherever they live, should be able to go into a website, click on a map and say 'when will I get the NBN? How fast will it be? And possibly even, how much it will cost me? Because that's important too. If you go into the NBN website you can't get those answers.

NANCE HAXTON: For such a large national project, though, isn't there a fair expectation that this could take a number of years to roll out.

SUSSAN LEY: Look I understand that it will take a number of years. But if this Government is going to go ahead and do this, then I want my constituents to benefit.

NANCE HAXTON: While the Liberals have long opposed the NBN, they are not the only federal politicians worried about what the network will provide to remote Australians.

Independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, says he has competition concerns with the network.

NICK XENOPHON: The smaller operators, the smaller wholesalers are saying that they'll have difficulties in competing fairly. Saying they've got very serious concerns about being able to access the NBN fairly on reasonable terms, particularly in regional areas.

NANCE HAXTON: While Liberal Federal member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, says the NBN will take years to reach outback communities, and provide them with the same technology they have now.

ROWAN RAMSEY: If you're not in the first 93 per cent of Australians and you don't receive the fibre to the premises service, you are quite likely to be on a satellite service. In fact, if you're on a satellite service now, you'll get pretty much exactly the same as what you're getting at the moment. That will be no upgrade at all.

NANCE HAXTON: Federal Broadband Minister, Stephen Conroy defended the NBN model, saying competition is robust.

STEPHEN CONROY: You're seeing for the first time retail competition about to explode across Australia.

NANCE HAXTON: He says they will soon confirm the timetable of the next three-year rollout of the NBN, so more communities will know when they can connect to the network.

STEPHEN CONROY: By 2015 we'll have completed the network and will have built for 455,000 premises across regional and rural Australia only. That's a fixed network for regional and rural Australia.

NANCE HAXTON: Is there a problem though, that the rollout could take nine years to reach some of those outback communities?

STEPHEN CONROY: Well as I've just said it's reaching them today. But the fundamental point, Sussan Ley, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, are opposed to building the National Broadband Network. Under the Liberal Party policy they would get none of what I have just described.

MARK COLVIN: The Broadband Minister, Stephen Conroy, ending Nance Haxton's report.



The Hon. Sussan Ley MP - Farrer -Website