Senator Stephen Conroy has been quick to jump on a recommendation by the Regional Telecommunications Review Committee (RTRC) which found the National Broadband Network's (NBN) Interim Satellite Service (ISS) could pose capacity constraints.
The RTRC report (PDF) said that while the NBN is a critical part of regional and remote Australia’s future for economic growth and improving health and education outcomes in regional Australia, the ISS program should be expanded to include more sectors of regional Australia such as remote schools, health facilities and Indigenous communities as soon as possible.
The minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy today announced that about 250 remote schools, 800 health clinics and 200 local government facilities will be able to connect to the NBN through the ISS.
“For schools like Watarru Anangu School in the far north of South Australia, it will mean students can get much more reliable broadband, with speeds up to six times faster than they have now. This will significantly help their ability to learn and gain a valuable education," Conroy said.
The ISS was launched 1 July last year and is being used as a transition service for eventual long-term satellite services in 2015. As at 3 April this year, it included nine retail service providers and 5050 interim satellite service end users.
In May 2011 Optus and Ipstar were named as ISS providers in deals worth $200 million and $100 million, respectively.
Earlier this year, NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, told a senate estimates hearing that: “The capacity we are leasing on the interim satellite service is costing [NBN Co] multiples of the cost of the equivalent capacity on the NBN Co satellites. Put simply there isn’t enough capacity for our purposes and having the Australian taxpayer own these new satellites is the right answer.”
The RTRC report also highlighted the importance of maintaining uniform wholesale prices for the NBN to ensure regional Australians do not pay more than their metropolitan counterparts, "particularly in areas where competition in the broadband market has not previously been present,” the report said.
The committee also said it was imperative that regional Australians continue to access fixed phone services during the NBN rollout, with a minimum level of quality provided for non-copper Universal Service Obligation phone services in areas where NBN Co does not provide fibre.
“As the new Universal Service Obligation (USO) arrangements are implemented, the consumer safeguards should also be closely monitored,” the report said.
Adequate mobile coverage was also found to be a continuing problem for regional Australians, with remote areas to be given priority to improve coverage and to be funded by the Commonwealth and states and territories. It also said mobile carriers should be allowed access to NBN fixed wireless towers.
The RTRC recommended a National Digital Productivity Council of Experts be developed for three years to address barriers to adopting digital productivity initiatives across Australia.
Conroy established the RTRC in July 2011 to examine telco services in regional and remote Australia. A total of 222 submissions were received from individuals and organisation, with public consultations held in 22 locations around Australia.
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