Tasmania takes community issues to NBN Co

New innovation minister "very keen" to negotiate with NBN Co over exact locations of fibre installation

The newly installed Tasmanian state Minister for Infrastructure, Development and Innovation has resolved to echo community concerns over the exact location of fibre and fixed wireless locations with NBN Co.

David O’Byrne - who replaced former Premier David Bartlett in the ministerial position less than a fortnight ago - told ABC Northern Tasmania radio’s drive program presenter, Roisin McCann, that recent issues around whether fibre would be installed at locations such as Bell Bay, Meander Valley and the East Tamar region in the mid-north of the state would be resolved through regular communication with the National Broadband Network (NBN) wholesaler and its Tasmanian subsidiary, NBN Tasmania.

“We’re committed where there are concerns raised by sections of the community that may not get complete access to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) that we want to sit down and see if we can deliver,” he said on radio.

“I’m very keen to roll up my sleeves and get into the negotiations to ensure we can maximise the opportunities the NBN presents by getting it to as many communities and as many businesses as possible.”

However, he warned that not all issues would be resolved and some areas were likely to miss out on the coveted fibre technology.

“You’d really like to, in a perfect world, switch on and roll out the NBN to all parts of the community, but this is staged approach and it’s important we get a mix of business and a mix of obviously retail, but households as well.”

Despite only 50 per cent of residents in the first three Tasmanian release sites taking up the NBN since its installation late last year, business and residential communities have continued to raise concerns that their areas may not receive fibre.

Those areas where fibre installation is not cost effective under current NBN Co plans will receive either fixed wireless or satellite connections with guaranteed speeds of 12 megabits per second (Mbps).

NBN Co is reportedly considering allowing those customers who do not receive fibre to upgrade to a fixed line connection at an extra cost.

Andrew Connor, a spokesperson for consumer lobby group Digital Tasmania, argued that not all of the communities raising issues had the right to do so.

“The issue of the Bell Bay business park is a little odd... those businesses already have access to fibre services if they’re prepared to pay for it and the very large corporations there do,” he said. “They also have ADSL available in that area already so it’s a relatively level playing field there already.

“It’s the consumers that can least afford to pay for it, so we believe they should get in first.”

Connor did, however, call for NBN Co to provide greater detail on rollout timelines for Tasmania and more granular information on which premises may or may not receive FTTP connections before the rollout commenced.

A location list (PDF) released by the Labor party during the federal election campaign last year indicated probable locations of fibre and fixed wireless rollouts over the life of the project.

However, NBN Co’s chief technology officer, Gary McLaren, told ABC Northern Tasmania radio that the exact locations of fibre equipment were yet to be finalised.

“We’re now in a detailed designing phase, where we’re working through with each of the local areas at a detailed level what the fibre network will look like,” he said.

“That’s working along pretty well at the moment to be able to talk to some of those designs where those specific areas are to have fibre on the street basis quite soon.”

Opt out legislation a go

O’Byrne also revealed details of how recently passed opt-out legislation in the state would likely be implemented.

“Once the communities are identified, they’ll be notified of when the rollout will occur and then the houses or businesses will have the opportunity to opt out,” he said.

“We think it’s important in this early phase, especially given that here is a significant government investment in the rollout, that we provide it to as many premises as possible... rather than wait a couple of years when homes and businesses are scremaing out for it because they can’t afford it, because there potentially may be a financial cost.”

O’Byrne confirmed plans to meet with communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, in coming weeks to discuss the potential business opportunities of the NBN in Tasmania, which some have speculated could be slipping as the network continues to be rolled out on the mainland.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

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