Standing up for Canberra

Grievance Debate: NBN

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this grievance debate tonight. I welcome the opportunity because I'll be talking about an issue with which I've had a grievance for a very, very long time, Deputy Speaker Hogan, and you would know this from hearing me speak in this Chamber. So it is no surprise that, tonight, I'm going to be talking about the NBN.

The first time the ACT appeared on any NBN rollout map was in October 2012. My electorate of Canberra, along with many others across Australia, was not on that rollout map, nor was it on the next iteration. So I mounted a campaign, because, at that stage in 2012, when we had one iteration after another, Canberra just continued to be one big, blank space on the NBN rollout map. So I began my sustained, tireless 'Send me your speeds' campaign to actually get Canberra on the NBN rollout map. It finally paid off, and there was much rejoicing. There was much rejoicing in this Chamber. I don't know whether you were in the chair, Deputy Speaker, but I did much rejoicing in this Chamber when we finally got onto the NBN rollout map.

I advocated to get this community—the nation's capital!—on the NBN rollout map and, finally, the government deigned to put the nation's capital on the rollout map and suggested that it would be connected in 2017. But, Deputy Speaker, you would not be surprised to hear that, despite my enthusiasm and my general excitement about the fact that we were finally on the rollout map, the goalposts started to move. They began to move early this year in terms of when the rollout was actually going to happen. The rollout was going to happen early this year in most parts of Canberra, and then it moved to the middle of this year. Then it moved to late this year, and then it moved to the first half of 2019. That move to early 2019 was an absolutely rock-solid assurance from NBN Co that it was going to be rolling out in the first half of 2019. The planned connection date is now scheduled for July to September 2019, which is yet another move to the right—and that's now less than 12 months from now—despite the assurances given by NBN Co at a meeting in June this year. I had an assurance from NBN Co that we were going to be rolled out before July to September next year, and now it has moved further to the right.

In spite of the shifting goalposts, my community continued to send me their speeds. I thank Canberrans for continuing to take part in this campaign and I encourage them to continue to take part in the campaign. The speeds vary depending on where the person lives and also on the type of internet service provider. Many people who live in the areas already served by fibre infrastructure have speeds much greater than those in the southernmost suburbs of Canberra, which are relying on ADSL through a congested exchange. We're comparing here the ability to stream video or make downloads in seconds with not even getting a connection or having that connection time out. What happens is that they get a connection and there's great excitement at getting the connection, and then it just times out. In one part of my electorate—I'm talking here about Theodore, where I have doorknocked—there are a number of students in a house that actually have to time their homework. One member of the household does half an hour's homework and then another does a half hour and then another, and that is all in between everything timing out. We're talking here of a place just 15 kilometres from Parliament House, in our nation's capital, in 2018.

There are residents in Chifley, Kambah and Coombs with download speeds greater than 20, 30 and even 40 megabits per second. But compare those to the residents in Theodore, who I mentioned before, and in Fadden, whose download speeds range from between 0.52 megabits per second—this is in the nation's capital!—and 5.5 megabits per second. With these contrasts, it's absolutely no wonder Canberrans are tearing their hair out and expressing their anger and frustration at the disappointing NBN rollout. This is especially the case when NBN focuses on overbuilding the existing infrastructure in suburbs already served by the much better and proven fibre internet connections, instead of in areas like Theodore, Calwell, Fadden, Gowrie and Chisholm, where the speeds are proving to be much slower. So, rather than focusing on those areas that were in desperate need of a decent connection, they just overlaid areas that had a good connection—go figure! What was the point of this? Was it to ensure that NBN remained competitive with TPG or iiNet?

The rollout experience has not been smooth sailing, as you can probably gather, even for suburbs that would be considered a greenfields build. Elliot in Coombs contacted me last month after he said he had 'exhausted all other options'. His building hasn't had any form of internet for months. This is despite the fact that the building was fitted with network termination devices to start the NBN installation process. But NBN Co didn't even know they had installed that device. They had no record of the installation starting months ago and needed Elliot to provide photos of their equipment at that property. Elliot has been forced to stop work, as the cost of hot-spotting his phone has become too much. This is the thing: it's having a significant impact on business and educational opportunities in my community—in our nation's capital. This is a small business owner in my community who has been forced to stop work because of the dysfunctional NBN rollout.

I contacted NBN Co on Elliot's behalf to get to the bottom of what was happening, to find out what was stopping the service being provided to his apartment building. According to NBN Co:

Some remediation is required from the developer to ensure the conduits are fit for purpose, as stipulated in their signed Master Developer Agreement. We had a tech on site yesterday morning in an effort to speed things along, distribute collateral, talk to residents and ensure the builder was crystal clear on what is left for them to do.

Will let you know once work has been completed.

Almost three weeks later, Elliot contacted me again, saying, 'We are now approaching nearly three months without internet access. As an IT professional, the internet is as important as having electricity to the property. I was advised an NBN tech was on site at some point. However, I was never told someone was attending the site, so I was not able to speak to or ask any questions of the NBN tech. This is yet another abysmal failure by NBN Co, as they even emailed me saying the NBN tech spoke to me to explain the issue. Then they backtracked and said the tech spoke to a 'neighbour' and that was apparently good enough. I obviously have no idea who they spoke to or what information they were provided. I'm honestly confused how a single company can have a complete monopoly on all new internet connections. There is literally not a single option other than using NBN, as there is no copper connection available. At this stage, I have absolutely no idea who the bottleneck is. NBN has closed my case. The body corporate said that they've done everything required of them, and we're still left without any internet or prospects of it being available.'

Again I sought advice from NBN Co about exactly what was happening at Elliot's apartment block in Coombs. Six days later, NBN Co advised:

Good news—

We've heard that before!

The site went into service today. The applicant has been advised.

Hallelujah, I thought. This was last Monday. Then today I received yet another email from poor, poor Elliot, who told me:

On Friday I was contacted by Aussie broadband as our address went "live" and they could connect our premise to the internet. But only hours later after calling back they advised NBNCo had rolled back the update and our address was once again unserviceable.

I'm worried that due to the holiday period coming any progress may be stumped, leaving us without internet for potentially a total of six months, again, for an IT professional, this is not a great situation.

That's very diplomatic of you, Elliot. NBN Co's rollout in my community is haphazard and unprofessional. I fought tirelessly to get Canberra, our nation's capital, on the rollout map. Now, we're on it, the goalposts just keep shifting. They keep moving. Small business owners in my community are being affected. Business is being lost and significant operational costs are being incurred. It is simply not good enough. It is simply not good enough for those small businesses in my community, for those students in my community who are being denied educational opportunities or for the people of Canberra who are being denied citizenry opportunities. Roll out the NBN, and do it properly the first time.