NBN won't close broadband gap, say advocates for rural communities

Rural areas likely to remain disadvantaged, officials tell ACCAN conference.

Even with the National Broadband Network (NBN), more work remains to bridge the digital divide between regional and metropolitan areas in Australia, said advocates for rural communities at the the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) conference in Sydney.

The NBN will help address the rural/urban digital divide but it won’t close the broadband gap, the advocates said.

“The rollout of the NBN and the increasing importance of the digital economy present both opportunities and challenges for regional and remote Australia,” said the independent Regional Telecommunications Review Committee (RTRC) chair, Rosemary Sinclair. “There continues to be a risk that people in regional Australia are left further behind unless we really stay on the case.”

The government should not overlook expanding the reach of mobile services as it seeks to upgrade wireless speeds, Sinclair said. “There is a huge difference between extending coverage and upgrading capacity, and what people in regional communities are interested in is extending coverage,” she said.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy recently said the government is implementing recommendations from the RTRC’s 2011/12 report on improving broadband in rural Australia.

Sinclair said it’s not time for rural advocates to back down. “Please do not wait until the next committee is formed in three years time … Keep going with the work. We wrote the report to help you do that.”

Rural businesses suffer from poor data speeds and poor mobile coverage, said Anittel executive chairman, Peter Kazacos. Annitel is an IT telecom provider serving small and medum-sized busineses in regional areas. Many businesses are in areas that are not prioritised for NBN deployment, he said. That has caused “a lot of frustration in the businesses that we deal with,” he said. “If we don’t connect our businesses in regional Australia to broadband quicker, we may not have employment for a lot of these businesses in those locations.”

There are about 6.9 million people in rural Australia and 300,000 are employed in the agriculture industry, said NSW Farmers Association committee member, Anthony Gibson. “However, basic communications infrastructure is still a requirement which is lacking for many farmers,” he said. Farmers seek better mobile, broadband and landline coverage comparable to what’s available in urban areas, he said.

The NBN won’t close the broadband gap for indigenous communities, even if it does bring service to previously unserved areas, said Indigenous Remote Communications Association interim manager, Daniel Featherstone. “We love the NBN, [but] unfortunately most of the people we represent aren’t going to get [a fibre] level of connectivity,” he said.

Satellite provides 12Mbps down and 1Mbps, sufficient for basic Internet functions, “but there will be a lot of applications and types of delivery of high-speed, two-way or symmetrical applications that won’t be able to operate,” Featherstone said. A 1Mbps upload speed assumes the end user “is only a consumer and not a producer.”

Besides lacking broadband in regional homes, indigenous peoples also face language and digital literacy barriers when accessing content on the Web. Furthermore, due to low income not all indigenous peoples living rural areas can afford broadband, she said. Featherstone said there is not enough content on the Web relevant to indigenous peoples that would encourage them to want to adopt broadband. The government has said it is considering how to expand the indigenous communications program to address these issues, noted Sinclair.

Partnerships between local and federal government can help drive broadband deployment and adoption in regional areas, said Kiama, NSW, Mayor Sandra McCarthy. By developed its own broadband strategy, Kiama won funding from the federal government, she said.

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12 Comments

Anon

1

Satellite provides 12Mbps down and 1Mbps, sufficient for basic Internet functions, “but there will be a lot of applications and types of delivery of high-speed, two-way or symmetrical applications that won’t be able to operate,” Featherstone said. A 1Mbps upload speed assumes the end user “is only a consumer and not a producer.”

The article doesn't explain what services that people in these regions would be looking to "produce" that requires a larger upload speed? The majority of internet users in most of Australia, regardless of location would be a consumer.. if they want faster upload speed for producing services, than why not have such a service hosted for them in a metro area? Surely that would also be a smart business decision given the value add of scalability, disaster recovery and other?

Justin

2

Anon - what a pathetic narrow minded misleading statement!
What reality are you living in - There are MAJOR businesses in rural and remote areas in (Agriculture, HEALTHCARE, etc) that need DECENT internet speed.
Also once the NBN is established most businesses will gear up their services and optimise the higher bandwidth - try opening up ninemsn on a satellite link - it is frustrating now!
I provide IT service and support 20 minutes from a major city in SE QLD - and some of my clients are on NextG & Sat - things won’t get much better as they will be missing out on the NBN.
Get out of you suburban house and go and have a look around.

Maude

3

It sounds like each of the communities included in the '7%' need to assess if they need better speeds than 12/1, make a case, then lobby their politicians (local, state, federal) for the extra funding required to get fibre. And if they think they should be able to jump the queue and get BB sooner then they should put together a case for that too!
Make their pollies part of the process and work them hard.
It's not as if the Coalition is offering anything better, so general whinges and a change of government won't get the outcome they desire.

Francis Young

4

That is absolutely correct, Maude. The NBN is designed to deliver within a decade fibre wherever possible, and to get at least 12/1 bandwidth to everyone else.

It should be noted that many of the rural users in question are within the 14 km range of one of the regional LTE towers NBN is building in the next 24 months, and will also benefit when the bandwidth is doubled to 25/2 shortly thereafter, as reported several times by NBNCo. 2 Mbps is still not great, but does allow a steady outgoing 720p video stream with a bit of bandwidth left over for others on the premises. Likewise, the NBN satelltes are proposed to allow uplinks of 1, 2 and 4 Mbps.

Then there is the network extension program described on nbnco.com.au which provides for single and groups of users to obtain fibre by topping up the cost, which may of course include applying for a separate government subsidy.

Perhaps Adam could do a story on Kiama Council's broadband policy. Gloucester created its own community Wi-Fi some years ago, and I believe Gosford Council is also doing a few things to bring broadband and business together.

I look forward to reading Rosemary Sinclair's report, which first and foremost proves that the coalition needs to get on board serious broadband infrastructure for regional and rural Australia.

Francis Young

5

A Summary of the (May 2012) 2011-2012 Regional Telecommunications Review Report including all its findings and recommendations may be read here:
http://www.rtirc.gov.au/files/2012/05/Summary-Regional_Communications-Empowering_digital_communities.pdf

All good stuff, and many recent DBCDE announcements have indeed picked up its proposals.

Justin

6

Maude : - There's a case that ALL remote and rural areas (the 7%) should get AT LEAST ADSL2plus speeds before the "haves" get 100mbit

Thats what Govt's are there for (ANY FLAVOUR) - balancing out the disparity - let commercial businesses take care of the rest.

Jai

7

The best case you can make for wanting higher speeds than the 12/1Mb/s you're designated is to actually make use of the capacity you currently have.

Language and digital literacy barriers? Well gee, I can't think of a medium that would allow people to overcome those barriers. If only someone could come up with some sort of network of information and educational sources...

Can't afford broadband? So this guy wants higher capacity, more content specific to his minority, someone to teach him how to use the internet and doesn't want to pay for it? Here's a thought, how about you produce this content you want to see, teach the world about your language and culture and perhaps you can generate enough cash to subsidise broadband for your community and perhaps even at higher speeds.

Justin

8

Jai - "Make use of the capacity you currently have" ????

I’ve got several clients/ business on NextG that the internet is barely usable now (Some don’t bother trying after 3:00pm). With everyone jumping on the “cloud” bandwagon – it is going to get a lot worse! Especially now that Microsoft has dumped Small Business server (but that’s another story).

We are arguing that THERE IS A CASE for ALL remote and rural areas to get CURRENT city speeds and RELIABILITY. They pay taxes as well.

Sounds like the NBN zealots don't care (or accept that there is life outside the city) and just want their NBN. WHY are these people so against these areas defending their right to voice their opinion and their needs?

There is a NEED is to prevent the digital divide from widening between the city and rural areas. I admit that I don’t have the answer to solve this – it would be political suicide to pour that amount of money into rural & remote areas (only due to lack of voters point of view) – but long term economically and socially (education/healthcare) it is imperative to address this dichotomy!

I just urge everyone to widen their focus and have a serious think about other people/businesses that are in these areas and put themselves in their shoes. City WANTS 100mbit/Gigabit got fast and reliable now, the rest NEED decent & reliable internet!

gnome

9

@Justin - hey, if it wasn't for those 'NBN zealots' that you (and Malcolm Turnbull) seem to despise, the NBN probably wouldn't have got off the ground in the first place.

Nobody (oops, +caps), NOBODY is against you, but this huge national project will take years. Previous comms standards were poor, so it's understandable that many people want it yesterday, but that just isn't possible.

Paul

10

NBN is just another great big monopoly that is deemed to fail. And it will fail because it is run by politicians trying to win votes in rural Australia and not by those with a business hat on. You can keep pouring money into a great big pit, but the pit will never get full.
I agree that rural Australians deserve better, but that is never going to happen by creating another great big Telstra.
These guys have got to start putting money where their mouths are and group together and lobby not just the politicians BUT also the companies that provide those poor services now like Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, BigPond et al.
Australia has the least competition for telecom and Internet services of any western nation (look at the European and North American economies). We need more efficient competition not more monopolies.

Abel Adamski

11

paul
We have had private sector competition for some time, we also have relatively low population density.
You quote the US, if their competition was delivering such good results for the Nation why do you think the US Govt. is forced to spend over $300Billion to upgrade their broadband, even then with large subsidies they are having difficulty obtaining carriers prepared to build their networks in the more Rural Deprived areas. One of their problems is infrastructure competition is actually inhibiting innovation and improvement, leading to caps and increasing prices as less customers to provide an ROI in their investment. In their own way their Cable companies have been so entrenched for so long and also provide Cable TV it is difficult for even FTTN to compete, not to mention their ned for a rapid ROI and healthy margins. Why Google has issues, also why wholesaling is minimal and why the cable TV programs are the major nominees for all the awards.
Plus once with a provider for some time, your email address is a key contact point, so many loth to change it by moving.

Abel Adamski

12

Perspective
bbc.com / news / technology-11325452
Spaces inserted to pass filter

Pigeon flies past broadband in data speed race

"But on Thursday, a race between the two highlighted the low speeds of rural broadband in the UK; the pigeon won.

Ten USB key-laden pigeons were released from a Yorkshire farm at the same time a five-minute video upload was begun.

An hour and a quarter later, the pigeons had reached their destination in Skegness 120km away, while only 24% of a 300MB file had uploaded.

Ah the magnificence of competition and the private sector

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