Adjournment – FTTN NBN rollout

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (12:35): It is no secret that I have been a strong advocate for the NBN and the benefits it will bring to people living in regional Australia. I wore a track to Malcolm Turnbull’s door when he was Minister for Communications, which resulted in Bundaberg becoming one of only 10 sites prioritised nationally for fibre-to-the-node. In December Bundaberg became the first city in Queensland—and only the second in Australia—to connect to the NBN fibre-to-the-node network. There are more than 23,000 premises in Bundaberg that are now in the fibre-to-the-node footprint.

Unfortunately, as so often is the case with the introduction of anything new, there have been some teething problems. Most of the problems rest squarely at the feet of the retail service providers. About a dozen constituents have sought my office’s help after being totally disconnected—they lost both internet and phone—for prolonged periods of time. Others have experienced significant delays in getting a technician to attend their home or business.

The majority of complaints have been from Telstra customers. For example, one Bundaberg business had their phone line disconnected in the process of trying to switch to NBN. This was the same line they used for EFTPOS, causing massive interruptions to the day-to-day running of their business. After much back and forth, the business was eventually offered a wireless dongle as an interim fix, until a more permanent solution could be found. It is my understanding that, in most cases, Telstra has an obligation to its business customers to provide a temporary alternative and to do it quickly.

A Bundaberg teacher from Avenell Heights also contacted my office after having no phone or internet at her home for 20 days. It is simply not good enough. She had reported it to Telstra, as had my office. At one point she was told she was connected, but she was not. I am pleased to say she was connected a couple of days ago.

We have also heard some alarming stories from residents about hardline marketing by Telstra. A 79-year-old disabled Norville woman contacted my office. She was very upset after being called by an aggressive telemarketer. She claimed that the telemarketer kept pushing her to make an appointment for a technician to come out to connect her to NBN. The resident insisted she wanted time to consider her options, but the telemarketer persisted ‘like a dog with a bone’. My staff explained to her that she did not have to make a decision right now; she has 18 months to switch her phone line over. They also advised her to shop around.

Unfortunately, as a result of Telstra flooding the region with marketing material, many elderly residents think Telstra is their only option and the only provider of the NBN. I only wish Telstra would invest as much money in technicians as they do in marketing. We need boots on the ground and not a never-ending sales pitch. My advice to Hinkler residents is to consider what their personal requirements are. Do you have an EFTPOS terminal, fax, alarm system or medic alert? How many people are in your home or business, how many devices do you have, and how do you use the internet? Make sure you discuss your requirements with more than one retail service provider and find out what is best for your situation. Shop around. That is my advice.

I should point out that there have been many happy FTTN customers too, but they are far less likely—as anyone in this room knows—to contact their federal member’s office to express their views. A caller to ABC Wide Bay talkback recently said that NBN was the best thing since sliced bread. He said his speeds had doubled and his monthly bill had halved.

There are many factors involved in the NBN rollout, such as engineering plans, cultural and heritage sites, local government approval, areas of greatest need, population density, distance, as well as existing contractual and commercial arrangements with Telstra, the owners of the existing copper network. It took 70 years to build the copper network, but the NBN will be rolled out and connected to around 10 million premises, and is being built in 10 years. It is the biggest infrastructure project in Australia’s history. So it is important to remember that the process of switching over to fibre-to-the-node is far easier compared to the all-fibre NBN that was being rolled out by the Labor government. Labor’s all-fibre FTTP plan would have involved excavation, new equipment and additional equipment in each building and installed inside every single existing home.

I do feel for the people in my electorate who are having difficulties. It is impossible to run a business or do school homework with no internet or phone line. But I want them to know that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears. It seems there is a lot of buck-passing happening. Retailers are blaming the NBN; nbn co are blaming retailers. At the end of the day, I do not care whose fault it is; these issues just need to be fixed so residents and businesses can use the NBN to its full potential.

Finally, I have not forgotten those who are without broadband in many of Hinkler’s small towns. Bundaberg is a point of interconnect for the NBN, and in just two years time more than 70,000 Hinkler premises will have either FTTP, FTTN or fixed wireless NBN. This will be a successful rollout; the technology will work. The technical people with the actual knowledge whom I have spoken to have advised me it will be incredibly successful and will be a great boon for regional Australia.

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