As a member representing a regional area, I have a keen interest in communication technology and how it can level the playing field for the regions.
Regional Australia and the bush have always been at a disadvantage due to reduced access to services and facilities – or, indeed, no access at all.
Communication technology has managed to bridge some of these gaps and an upgrade to Australia’s broadband infrastructure could bring services and the bush closer together.
However, the Liberal National Coalition believes Labor’s NBN will fall well short of the mark.
The standing committee on Infrastructure and Communication’s Report on Broadening the debate – Inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network should have been a warning that the planned NBN would fall short of the mark.
Had this report been conducted at the appropriate time – before the rollout of the $43billion NBN – it might have gathered the information required to make an informed, unbiased report.
That might have resulted in an upgrade to our broadband infrastructure that closed the gap for the regions.
Instead, this report is clearly a politically motivated exercise to provide a manufactured support for the government’s poor policy decision.
This report sets out to find information it could use to support the Gillard Government’s NBN program that is already being rolled out.
What we have seen with the rollout of the NBN to date is nothing more than a political campaign.
There was not enough planning and research prior to the policy announcement in 2009.
You can’t conduct an inquiry halfway through the process because the government is hardly going to produce a report that tells the truth – that the NBN you’ve already rolled out is not a good idea.
Key elements of the rollout have been determined by political advantage – and it has still been a disaster.
The rollout has been a case of shoot first and ask question later. Don’t worry about consulting with the industry – just start rolling it out. Don’t worry about planning how it work – just start rolling it out. Don’t worry about benefits it will or won’t provide – just start rolling it out.
The government has shot first and then asked the question – and here’s the question in this report.
Believing in the mantra “build it and they will come”, this government thought if they just threw a billion dollars around and built something, the people would come.
So they build something. They started to roll out an NBN and the people didn’t come.
Oh, wait. Yes they did. Some did.
When the Prime Minister and Communications Minister, along with the Member for New England, pushed the big red novelty button to apparently “turn on” the NBN in New England, how many people were hooked up to the service? Seven. And one of those seven, infamously admitted he hooked up to the service to play World of Warcraft.
So the Gillard Government is rolling out a $50billion plus taxpayer-funded infrastructure so a sword-wielding virtual elf-warrior can slay orcs and trolls a little more realistically.
If this report had been done at the start – it might have warned why the people would not come.
The people did not come because they don’t want fibre to the home (unless they want to be an elven warrior).
The demand simply isn’t there.
This report covers examples of some of the great things high-speed communication technology can do.
But there’s two problems with those examples.
Firstly, there are very, very few examples of applications that require the 100 megabits that fibre would provide.
The high-speed, real life video conferencing that links a specialist in the city with a patient in the bush is done with a speed of 20 megabits.
I note that among the examples cited in this report, is a trial of aged care technology in the Hunter region.
The technology provided video and voice communications with the elderly and, according to the report, was a successful application of broadband.
What the report doesn’t mention is the fact that this technology required a speed of just 512 kilobits per second. That is only half a percent of the NBN’s 100 megabit capability.
This is an issue noted by Doctor Michael Williams, the director of Child and Adolescent Health Service at the Mackay Base Hospital in my electorate of Dawson.
He said, and I quote:
“Good telehealth services are and can be provided using current technology and facilities. It is not necessary to have the NBN to deliver much more effective telehealth”
I should note, also, that Doctor Williams does not make this comment as a supporter of the Liberal National Coalition.
On the contrary, Doctor Williams is the president of the Mackay Conservation Group and an avid supporter of the Greens – the very same party that is in bed with the Labor Party on the rollout of the NBN.
The second problem with examples of this nature is the constant bleating about linking remote communities with specialists in the city.
The NBN will not be in the truly remote communities.
Remote communities and much of regional Australia access broadband through wireless and satellite technology.
Under the NBN, they will continue to do so but at much lower speeds than their capital city counterparts and quote possibly at higher costs than they currently pay.
I want turn now to Kelsey Creek, a very small rural parish north-west of Proserpine in my electorate.
Kelsey Creek is probably like many other small rural parishes in the electorate – places like St Helens Beach, McEwans Beach, Dunrock, Strathdickie, Giru, and Cungulla.
Most, possibly, all these places, like Kelsey Creek, will receive the satellite service under the NBN.
I am reliably informed by Kelsey Creek resident Lloyd Fox (who some might kindly refer to very IT literate) and his son that the NBN will actually be detrimental to their particular situation when it comes to internet access.
Currently the , access to satellite internet thorugh provider Skymesh with a monthly download limit of six gigbytes of peak data and 12 gigabytes off-peak data at a cost of $89.95 per month.
Under the NBN proposal, the only comparable satellite service actually costs $99.95 per month.
That’s an additional $10 a month or $120 a year and, most importantly, putting upwards price pressure across the ISP sector.
Perhaps if Justin were not so internet literate and the Fox family used it only for their emails, they might be on the simple 1 Gig dataplan – costing them a very affordable and reasonable $19.95 through their current satellite provider. The NBN satellite alternative for the same 1 Gigabyte service comes at a price tag of $44.95 per month. That’s $25 a month dearer or $300 extra a year and this will, no doubt, see ISPs providing satellite broadband put prices up across the board.
The biggest impediment that we have in this country to broadband access is cost, particularly for people in rural areas who, I’m reliably informed by the good people at the ABS, are much poorer in income than their city counterparts.
This cost pressure that the NBN will have on places like Kelsey Creek, McEwans Beach, Giru, and Cungulla is only going to further erode the ability of many families to be connected to the internet and the digital economy.
This government is denying rural people access to broadband through this NBN.
One aspect of this report that should have been considered prior to any rollout is the evidence that points to a better approach.
An approach that bridges the gap and secure a better deal for regional and remote areas.
I would like to talk briefly about black spots because the NBN that is being rolled out at the moment does not address black spots.
To highlight the significance of black spots in our communications networks, I would like to bring attention to one particular tragedy in a black spot in my electorate of Dawson.
In December last year, a young teenager drowned at a popular swimming hole near Alligator Creek.
Che-Nezce Perrie Shepherd was just 17 when her foot became wedged between rocks in the creek.
A freak surge of water resulting from an exceptionally heavy downpour rapidly rose and her friends, unable to free here, tried to call for help on mobile phones.
This popular swimming hole is in a black spot and her friends were unable to raise the alarm.
Che-Nezce drowned in her friends arms.
I have raised this specific issue in this place before and I am pleased to say that since then the community support has prompted Telstra to address this particular black spot – with no thanks to the government.
The government can roll out billions of dollars of NBN but that NBN will do nothing to prevent tragedies like this occurring.
Every day, in less tragic ways, black spots in our communication network hinder businesses and the lifestyles of everyday people in regional and remote areas.
Businesses in Townsville don’t need the NBN. They need mobile phones that work.
These are the issues that should have been covered by a report before any alleged solution is rolled out.