SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s failed NBN rollout.  

With Brian Mitchell MP. 

BRIAN MITCHELL MP: Thanks for coming today. We’re here with Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications. As you know the NBN is a big issue, I’m Brian Mitchell, the Member for Lyons, and I’m on the NBN Joint Standing Committee in the Parliament and we’ve been taking hearings in the last few weeks as well, hearing about all the issues that people are having with the NBN. So it’s certainly still a big issue for people and the sub-standard service that the Turnbull NBN is creating. Michelle’s here today to talk through some of the issues, so thank you for coming Michelle, and we’ve got a forum on tonight at Howrah and we’ve got a lot of people coming along to share their stories as well. But I’ll throw to Michelle. 

MICHELLE ROWLAND MP: Thanks very much. Labor had a very good reason when we were in Government for prioritising Tasmania for the rollout of the National Broadband Network and that, at the time, was a real National Broadband Network, a Fibre-to-the-Premises Network. Today we had the opportunity to meet with Casey from a web-design based company called TakeFlight and he is based in one of the shared spaces in Hobart which has Fibre-to-the-Premises connected and, in his words, it is the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to his company and many others that utilise that space. It means that the tyranny of distance is overcome, he has clients all over Australia and that can only be delivered through a true National Broadband Network based on fibre. On the issue of fibre, we can contrast that to page one of The Australian today which details the way in which copper is failing this National Broadband Network and really does point to the sub-standard nature of what residents are otherwise receiving. We have seen the number of people who have complained about their service quality and also their speeds with the National Broadband Network increase sharply. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman only recently released its latest statistics, again showing large numbers of complaints, and they themselves have said that they expect complaints to increase to something in the order of 150, 000 for the next annual reporting period. So we know, and we knew some time ago, that copper had reached its used-by date. What we have seen now is that consumers, who are ordering what they think they are able to obtain under the NBN, aren’t actually able to get those speeds, and aren’t able to access that quality. Consumers should get what they pay for and they should not be buck-passed between their Retail Service Provider and the NBN. This Government has declared 2017 to be the year of the consumer. Well it’s now May and we have consumers more frustrated than ever, including here in Tasmania for those people who haven’t been able to access a genuine National Broadband Network.

JOURNALIST: So I guess the NBN has been in existence for almost a decade now in some form. Are the speeds we were talking about in 2007, early on, are they still what we’re going to need in the future or do we need to have a rethink?

ROWLAND: Well that is a good question and I think it was very telling that this Government seems to think that we don’t need to future-proof our economy. In a state like Tasmania, one in which we have regions in many cases of chronically high unemployment, where we have an economy that is almost permanently in transition and does unfortunately have that tyranny of distance, we need to make sure that every opportunity is given for every sector of its economy to succeed. Whether it be overseas trade, whether it be trade with other states, they need to have the best quality broadband. And you don’t need to take it from us. You can take it from people such as TakeFlight that we met with today. You can take it from the constituents that we are going to meet with this evening. They deserve the highest quality broadband at the best speeds and it is true that under copper people are not getting the speeds that they have paid for and people have an absolute right to complain about that and get resolution.

MITCHELL:  Copper has a limitation inbuilt. The fibre, as far as we know, is unlimited. The real problem for the economy is that we are going into the information age. We’re going from the industrial age to the information age. This is where investment needs to be and it’s just fallen down. Companies like TakeFlight who we spoke to today, going from zero employees to nine employees in a short amount of time; they wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have fibre. So we need as much fibre as we can get into the network. There’s been a real failing that we haven’t had it to date. In Tasmania, what fibre does is reduces the tyranny of distance for Tasmania and allows Tasmanian’s to compete with mainland states and internationally. If we don’t have fibre in our network here we’ll fall further behind.

JOURNALIST: Obviously there is a significant deficit, and the NBN isn’t cheap. Is it something that we just have to compromise on, you know we can necessarily invest a whole heap of money in?           

ROWLAND: Put it this way, Malcolm Turnbull is about to give a tax giveaway worth $64 billion. He initially said that his version of the NBN would cost around $29 billion. Now that’s going up to around $50 billion.

We also know that around the world the cost of fibre rollout is going down and we also know that around the world, including in the UK and New Zealand, the ability to achieve scale is one that is really getting results. So we know that fibre is the here and now and also the future. Copper really is relegated to last century. So when you put it in that context you can see spending $50 billion of taxpayer’s hard-earned to deliver a sub-standard network. We should’ve done it right the first time. And Malcolm Turnbull in his heart of hearts knew fibre was the future. He knew that this country needed to have a future-proofed fibre backbone. And yet, for political reasons he chose to go down the lowest road and relegate Australia to an internet backwater. And again you don’t need to take it from me. You might have seen over the weekend a very prominent article appearing in the New York Times saying Australia is a great place to live, has a great quality of life, but it has one significant failing and that is the quality of its internet.       

JOURNALIST: What are some of the impacts that Tasmania will see if, or maybe is already seeing, through the change to using the copper network and fibre to the node?    

ROWLAND: Well you can see, for example, if you compare Fibre-to-the-Premises, that is actually enabling businesses and not only high-tech businesses but any type of small business to be able to achieve their potential. And compare that, and I’m sure Brian has a number of cases, of people who have been relegated to fibre to the node copper connection and the number of complaints have increased.

MITCHELL: The complaints have increased in terms of connectivity, in terms of issues, but one of the key complaints we get is upload speeds. So people mention download speeds, but upload speeds are just hopeless with copper, I think it’s around 2 Mbps sometimes, really really slow. And when you’re talking about the information age with the economy and data, it’s not a one way street. Data needs to go both ways. So people are trying got get data out of Tasmania to their international customers and it’s going to the speed of a horse and cart. It’s just not good enough. So this is why we need as much fibre in the system as we can get, as fibre will increase the upload speeds as well as the downland speeds.

JOURNALIST: And then you’re receiving a lot of complaints in your office about that?   

MITCHELL: We get complaints from consumers, from people in homes, from businesses as well. Lyons of course, being the country seat, in my electorate not very much Fibre-to-the-Premises. I have a lot of Fibre-to-the-Node emerging, wireless, and some satellite. And there’s issues across all of those. Under Labor’s plan there was a place for wireless and a place for satellite but it was only very small part of the population, so the vast majority, I think 90% of the population was going to be Fibre to the-Premises. That improves the economy for everybody. So in Lyons, we’ve been getting all those connection issues; issues with modems, issues with bouncing around with the NBN and the ISPs; who’s to blame and who to get hold off, the long wait times for people trying to get service. Just a lot of problems that shouldn’t be there after 7 years, Labor’s plan was on track, we were rolling it out from a start-up position when the NBN didn’t even exist as a concept. Labor got it on track, we started this great project and it was rolling out and the Liberals came in and just demolished it.    

JOURNALIST: In that report that came out recently, Tasmania had about 2.5 complaints per thousand which is actually quite a lot lower than average. Does that mean were doing a bit better her in Tasmania.

ROWLAND: Well you’ve got to remember Tasmania has predominately a Fibre-to-the-Premises rollout. If you examine in detail the TIO statistics, you can see that the areas of highest complaint correspond to areas where Fibre-to-the-Node, so the copper network, is being utilised, including places such as the Central Coast and regional Queensland. That is no accident. And Brian has been absolutely steadfast interrogating NBNCo and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on the Joint Standing Committee. And it’s no surprise to us that the levels of complaints about copper correspond to those areas.

MITCHELL: And that goes to our point. Tasmania was the first place Fibre-to-the-Premises was rolled out under Labor so we had a lot more places not only under us but in train. So that probably explains why the complaints were relatively lower. What we’re seeing now with more Fibre-to-the-Node being rolled out across the country is complaints increasing.