Six weeks after the first trial customers were switched on, the National Broadband Network (NBN) has received its first official launch in Tasmania.
Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, and Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, were present at the launch, which saw the network switched on for the first time for all customers who signed up in the Tasmanian towns of Scottsdale, Smithton and Midway Point.
The announcement comes 16 months after the Government’s proposed $43 billion fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network was first announced.
Conroy told media at the launch that hundreds were “queued up and waiting to come online” to the network.
However, roughly 70 users have been able to use the network for six weeks, with participating service providers Internode, iPrimus and iiNet having announced they had connected customers. Several businesses have also been connected, including a pharmacy in Scottsdale and a private high school in Smithton.
About half of the residents in the Stage 1 sites signed up for the NBN as it was rolled out. The network wholesaler, NBN Co, currently requires residents to opt-in to the network for installation of optical network terminals (ONTs) on the outside of the house, but Conroy reaffirmed that the Tasmanian Government was looking into making it an opt-out decision instead.
Stage 1 sites in Tasmania were built under the claimed budget of $37 million, at an estimated $2500 per house connected in addition to other network infrastructure costs involved in the project.
According to the state’s Bartlett, Tasmania was chosen as the initial testbed for the network due to the work the State Government had already done in telecommunications reform, including the transition of key utility assets such as energy provider and network wholesaler, Aurora Energy, into public hands.
However, Conroy said it was mostly about speed.
“This has been the slowest broadband and the most expensive broadband in the country, bar none,” he said. “Lots of people around Australia think they’ve got it worst; this state has had it the worst.”
The official launch comes as NBN Co gears up to announce the availability of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds to all houses under the network, ten times the 100 megabits per second (Mbps) committed speeds previously promised.
Conroy said he had been notified only yesterday of the change in speeds and had been given a short technical briefing.
“Now they’ve done the engineering and design work... The interfaces at home and the interfaces at the company have always been able to sustain that speed but they’re now confident that they’ve actually robustly tested it, that the interfaces can sustain 1Gbps.”
Even the NBN has now been officially launched, the network’s certainty remains in the balance pending the Federal election 21 August. The Liberal party has pledged to scrap the NBN if elected, leaving the three Tasmanian towns as the only sites with the connected network, and potentially causing a “disaster” for the state’s economy, according to Bartlett.