Ballarat City Council is actively considering deploying fibre at new developments in the growing regional town in order to avoid “shoe-horning” fast broadband access during the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
However, concerns over who pays for and installs the infrastructure remain unanswered by both the council and network wholesaler, NBN Co.
Appearing before a House of Representatives standing committee on the role of NBN, council chief executive, Anthony Shink, said that the council was considering ways of resolving the issue, including possible installation of conduits or changing policies to allow easier installation by third parties.
“One of our concerns is, as Ballarat grows, and as we have 14,000 homes built to our west in the Ballarat growth zones... we’re focused very clearly on how do we make sure there is cable included as part of that development rather than being shoe-horned at the end,” he said.
The regional town is the largest in Western Victoria with a population of approximately 96,000. Current estimates indicate that population will rise to 120,000 by 2026.
While Shink conceded the town’s central area was currently well-served by internet service providers, a fibre deployment ahead of an official NBN rollout would potentially help provide more equally fast broadband access to Ballarat residents.
“[It is currently] a private sector product where clearly some providers in the Ballarat area are actually providing a slower speed because that’s the wholesale price they’ve bought it at,” he said.
Also appearing before the committee, Centre for eCommerce and Communications (CeCC) director, Helen Thompson, agreed that councils such as those in the wider Ballarat area should consider changing planning and construction policies to include conduit installation.
A recent study conducted by the centre, situated at the University of Ballarat, acknowledged planning policy changes made by the Moorabool Shire Council last year, which mandated new developments include a conduit strategy for both residential and industrial areas.
The plan would help NBN Co easily deploy the fibre-to-the-home network to the town of Bacchus Marsh, one of 19 mainland sites earmarked for deployment this year.
However, Shink warned that the addition of fast connectivity to the town would increase reliance on Ballarat facilities for some services.
“The issue with Bacchus Marsh is their population is ageing,” he said. “In fact they have a very large number of nursing home facilities in construction and we expect that the health provision load for that will relate to Ballarat.”
Tasmanian experience a lesson
Another spokesperson for the council told MPs at the hearing that the council was eager to avoid some of the confusion experienced by residents and businesses during the NBN rollout in Tasmania.
Though supportive of an opt-out approach - now mandated in Tasmania but scrapped by the current Victorian government - Ballarat City Council would engage directly with businesses and residents to ensure NBN services were not rejected at the expense of end-users.
“We’d see as a community one of the roles of council is about ensuring the take-up is maximised,” the spokesperson said. “We would take I would suspect a very strong position about ensuring our businesses are not only aware but that we help facilitate whatever was going to happen.
“We’d obviously be very disappointed if [the Tasmanian experience] was not built on in any NBN rollout here.”
Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch
Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU