An additional 57,000 Australian residents will receive a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connection during the second phase of the mainland rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
NBN wholesaler NBN Co announced a further 19 mainland trial sites this week, in addition to the five existing trial sites on the Australian mainland, where construction will begin this month. Five of the second release sites will expand the coverage of the first sites to an additional 3,000 residents in each of the areas, while the other 14 are completely new choices by NBN Co, which will each see 3,000 homes connected.
The second release sites are:
- Victoria: Bacchus Marsh, South Morang (Melbourne)
- Queensland: Brisbane (inner north), Springfield Lakes, Toowoomba
- NSW: Riverstone (western Sydney), Coffs Harbour
- South Australia: – Modbury, Prospect
- Western Australia: Victoria Park (Perth), Geraldton, Mandurah
- Northern Territory: Casuarina
- ACT: Gungahlin
The existing first release sites - Minnamurra/Kiama Downs (Kiama) and Armidale in NSW, Townsville in Queensland, Brunswick in Melbourne, and Willunga in South Australia - will have their fibre-serving area expanded by an additional 3,000 premises each; with the area of Seaford/McLaren Vale in South Australia becoming part of the Willunga area.
Communications minister, Stephen Conroy, said the new sites were chosen based on engineering, network design and logistical criteria. He claimed there was no political motive behind their choosing, despite the proximity to a Federal election.
"I'd love to tell you that I actually have some significant influence on this roll out but it wouldn't be true for me to claim that," he said.
One of the second release sites, Riverstone in NSW, is a greenfield estate with 8,500 premises, and is part of the North-West Sydney Growth Centre areas identified in 2008 by the NSW State Government. A consultation paper released by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in June 2009 estimates that installation of fibre in this area would cost $2,500 for each premise, though fibre installation costs may have reduced over time, particularly due to the escalation of the rollout by NBN Co.
Nevertheless, while there are 8,500 premises in the area, only 3,000 of the homes will gain access as NBN Co has committed to installing a single aggregation point there.
The ACT suburb of Gungahlin, on the other hand, was largely chosen due to its lack of broadband services.
"I'd say certainly a factor in our considerations was what broadband services are available in those locations and it is clear Gungahlin has a problem," NBN Co chief executive officer, Mike Quigley, said. "It has a bunch of RIMs serving large parts of Gungahlin, they can't provide broadband so it makes good sense if you're going to pick an area in the ACT to pick one that's got a problem with broadband today."
Construction of the second release sites is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of this year, by which time the $9 billion Financial Heads of Agreement deal between Telstra and NBN Co is expected to have passed both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as well as Telstra shareholders, providing NBN Co will the ability to use existing Telstra infrastructure and exchange space and reducing costs of the rollout. However, as the deal has not been signed and is currently non-binding, there is no guarantee those same assets will be usable when the tendered construction companies begin on the first release sites.
"We frankly don't want to dig up the ground where we don't have to," Quigley said. "It's much better if we could use the facilities that are available so we are having discussions around that."
In making the announcement of the new release sites, Quigley highlighted that the wholesaler would first consult with authorities in the sites before finalising which exact homes would be getting the connections.
"It's looking at the road by road layout of those 3,000 premises which we'll be doing in each of the fibre serving areas," Quigley said.
While community consultation was held on the first five mainland release sites, this was done after the locations of the connections were chosen. Quigley conceded that this led to some councils asking for some alterations to the network boundaries, though it is believed these suggested alterations were not included during that phase of the project.
Specifically, Liberal senator, Ian McDonald, who chaired the recent Senate select committee on the NBN, told Quigley during a Senate hearing that the area first chosen in the senator's constituency of Townsville would have been better suited in the town centre, rather than on the fringes as decided by NBN Co. With the newly announced expansion of the Townsville area to a further 3,000 sites, Quigley said that area was now a possible choice.
"We will have that discussion with the council and make sure we'll take into account their views and priorities," he said.
The first phase of the NBN rollout in Tasmania has already been completed, with some of the first customers to sign up saying they had an active service. The remainder of the island state will receive connections in two further stages, with construction on the second stage also expected to be announced this month.
Though the rollout of the FTTH aspect of the NBN has escalated, NBN Co is yet to make a decision on the wireless and satellite technologies to be used in reaching at least seven per cent of the rural Australians.
"We are still in discussions with the government around potential solutions," Quigley said. "As you would imagine, there is a lot of work to be done in that area and we will be making announcements I would say before too long.