Adjournment Debate – National Broadband Network

Monday, 14 July 2014

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (21:05): Last month I announced that Bundaberg, at the northern end of my electorate, would be one of only 10 sites across the country prioritised for superfast broadband upgrades. NBN Co and Telstra have reached an agreement on an expanded program to plan, design and construct fibre-to-the-node high-speed broadband. About 200,000 premises will be passed by fibre to the node nationally, including a high proportion that were classified as being underserved in the government’s myBroadband study. While the planning and design work has not yet been completed to map exactly which suburbs and streets will receive the NBN in my electorate, it is expected that about 20,000 premises will be eligible to connect to high-speed VDSL fibre-to-the-node services in 2015.

The fact that Bundaberg is a point of interconnect for the NBN bodes well for further expansion down the track. The announcement was part of the government’s ongoing reform of the NBN to ensure that superfast broadband can be rolled out sooner and more cost-effectively in areas that are underserved. I would like to remind the House of the findings contained in the independent strategic review released by NBN Co in December last year. The review found the rollout was two years behind schedule, with final completion due 11 years later than was first promised by Kevin Rudd. The cost to taxpayers of completing the NBN under Labor’s plan had blown out to $73 billion. That is $29 billion more than Australians were told. An average broadband bill will now cost $72 per month using a mix of technology, compared with $139 under Labor’s plan.

NBN Co advised the government that to deliver broadband sooner, at less cost to taxpayers and more affordably for consumers, the NBN should be completed by using a mix of technology. When you consider that fewer than 400 million of the world’s 1.6 billion internet devices are PCs, it is easy to see why using a mix of technologies is ideal: people are moving towards portable wireless devices.

Wireless technology is particularly vital across vast distances, in regions that are sparsely populated. Twenty development applications have so far been lodged with Bundaberg Regional Council for wireless internet towers in outlying areas. A further 15 development applications for towers have been lodged with Fraser Coast Regional Council, at the southern end of the Hinkler electorate.

As with any development application, one tower in particular has drawn heavy criticism. My office receives regular complaints and inquiries about the quality and availability of internet at Pacific Haven. However, we also recently received a petition against an NBN tower in the same community. The residents argue the proposed location of the tower will distract drivers and reduce property values. They also claim electromagnetic radiation will affect their wellbeing. They have suggested two other sites for the tower. NBN Co took their concerns on board and assessed the sites, but found they were not feasible or appropriate.

I also recently met with representatives from Bundaberg Port. They say internet availability is one of the major deciding factors for many yachtsmen and businesses. The Bundaberg Port Marina is the most popular ports of entry into Australia. International visitors come from all corners of the globe and use the marina as a gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef and a centralised base for their inland adventures. Unfortunately, the Bundaberg Port Marina and the nearby town of Burnett Heads have among the worst internet coverage in the Hinkler electorate. As a result, Bundaberg Port is struggling to compete with destinations that have reliable internet. Visitors are staying for fewer nights and moving on to other ports.

As with most complaints about local internet service, Telstra says there are no ports available in the roadside cabinet. They have no plans to expand or upgrade the service in the foreseeable future. The simple truth is that Telstra did not invest enough in the fixed-line network, while Labor continued to make unrealistic promises. It is understandable that Telstra did not want to invest, when the infrastructure might be removed a short time later to make way for the NBN.

I hope that this latest announcement on NBN will put an end to this stalemate. The NBN roll out across Bundaberg should free up some of Telstra’s capital, and I urge Telstra to re-invest any savings back into the local network in areas where expansion is sorely needed. Telstra’s one saving grace locally is customer service specialist, Roger Dewar. He responds promptly whenever my very diligent electorate officers contact him with a constituent inquiry.

Prior to entering politics, I was an electrical engineer and a small business owner. I have three school-age children, and my wife works in allied health. I understand how important it is that Australians have access to reliable high-speed internet, including those who live in regional Australia. I have fought hard to ensure Hinkler residents are among the first to receive the NBN. Under Labor, the NBN was the most wasteful and mismanaged infrastructure project in Australia’s history. We are taking steps to get this project on track after so many years of misinformation and frustration. I thank Hinkler residents for their patience and understanding.

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