SUBJECT: National Broadband Network, NBN Survey. 

CHRIS MAC: Have you got the NBN? Are you considering getting the NBN? Is your area NBN ready, like me where our area is NBN ready but our family hasn't made the jump yet, because we're hearing a lot of horror stories. Now if there are good stories, as I put the call out earlier this morning, if there's good stories about the NBN tell us. We'd love to hear them. Even as late as last Saturday week, I was presenting Weekend Breakfast here at 2CC and of course we run the Trading Post between 6am and 7am and had a caller from Canberra who said he just got on the NBN and he apologised in advanced to people who were going to give him a ring about the thing he was selling because he said 'I'm on the NBN Chris and it’s dreadful'. Now, that may not be the experience of everyone in Canberra, but it was that guys. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications in the Federal Opposition and is commencing a survey which you can take part in, to tell about your experiences with the National Broadband Network and or your telco, and certainly the NBN. Michelle Rowland joins us on air this morning. Michelle thanks for joining us today.


MAC: As I say, you want to hear good stories about this technological change. It was something that the telcos, at least I think it was Telstra from memory where it wasn't willing to contribute, so it became an all of government initiative. But with the NBN still being rolled out, there's a lot of disappointment out there isn't there?

ROWLAND: There is a lot of disappointment unfortunately, and as you rightly point out, it’s not the reason why the project was commenced in the first place. It was really to fill a market failure that had been occurring and, without going into too much detail, the vertical integration of Telstra, where we didn't have sufficient competition, and what we're trying to do here, just moving onto the point of the survey, is really to hear about the experiences, as you say, of consumers. One of the biggest complaints we hear as local Members, and I'm sure Gai Brodtman and Andrew Leigh, they're in the ACT, would hear this, is consumers saying they're not being heard. But also to give an opportunity for consumers to tell us about what their expectations are, what they think can be improved and really have this focus on the lived experience of constituents, rather than the politics around it and rather than some of the spin we sometimes see around it.

MAC: No doubt you've spoken to our local representatives. Gai and Andrew have both had something to say. Gai, I've seen videos of her in the Parliament where she talks about people who can literally have a 20 or 30 minute walk to Parliament House who are getting NBN speeds of 2 to 3 Mbps and this is NBN, not pre-NBN. 

ROWLAND: That's right and unfortunately that's become the case for a lot of consumers and again this wasn't supposed to be how it was designed and what it was supposed to achieve was to really bridge that digital divide as between metropolitan and regional areas. And there are a couple of reasons we’re starting to find out why that hasn't happened. But really what we want to know now is what experience is being had and how can we improve that as Labor looks towards the next election and formulating our policy for this area. 

MAC: Now there's a lot of talk, Michelle, about Fibre to the Premises, which a number of areas around Australia, including here in Canberra, particularly the Gungahlin area, is able to enjoy. Although I still hear people in Fibre to the Premises territory that still have problems and the blame seems to be shooted home to the telco in some situations not buying enough bandwidth, depending on which company you're with. But there's also this question of Fibre to the Premises versus Fibre to the Node, in other words the NBN line arrives down at the end of your street but then after that you're on dear old copper. Now that obviously slows things down. If in government, have you looked at the possibility of upgrading Fibre to the Node to Fibre to the Premises to improve at least some of the speed issues? 

ROWLAND: These are some of the issues, Chris, we’re looking at and really is the purpose of why we're seeking feedback from consumers, because, as you rightly point out, one of the big issues is the quality of the copper network that is being utilised under Malcolm Turnbull's model, rather than fibre directly to the premises. So Fibre to the Node actually utilises a copper component. If you have Fibre to the Curb, some of your listeners may have heard of this, at least the copper length is not as long and fibre is taken deeper to the home. But I can let you know Chris that from the responses that we've had so far to the survey, we've got over 55% of respondents on Fibre to the Premises saying that they're either satisfied or very satisfied with their service. But again, as you drill down deeper into this, sometimes people say 'Well at certain times of the day I am finding that my service is slower and that wasn't happening 6 or 12 months ago’ but again this looks like it might have something to do with the amount of bandwidth that is being purchased by those retail service providers and again that gives a very important indication about the economics of the NBN and what Labor would need to look at in the event that we form government next time.

MAC: So in other words, when you're in government it won’t just simply be saying a technological issue, it might be a little bit of the old buyer beware, caveat emptor, kicking in as well.  

ROWLAND: Well, we will need to examine the situation on the ground as and when that arises, Chris, because we don't know when the next election will be. We know the rollout is continuing and we know that Fibre to the Node is now the predominant technology that's being rolled out. And therefore I think it's imperative that we listen to the lived experience of consumers to find out exactly how this is progressing and how they are dealing with these issues. 

MAC: Because the other thing about this is, the technological world won’t wait for us will it Michelle? You've got people now, in terms of people being able to do things online in relation to their health, where they can take tests and obviously you talk to your GP, but the medical profession are using it, schools are using it, if you want to trade in shares you've got to have a good speed, even regional education are using it. Without a good quality internet and good quality reliable stuff you can rely on, basically things will fall over pretty quickly, so there's a tremendous responsibility here for the current government and of course you, if you happen to become a Minister of the Crown after the election whenever it might be held. 

ROWLAND: You're absolutely right, and just as water and energy are considered to be essential utilities, I think there is no doubt these days that access to affordable quality broadband is also an essential utility. Even dealing with government; try walking into a Medicare office these days to get some of your work done there. You're now expected to do so much through the MyGov portal and for people, particularly those who are older and probably not as familiar with this technology, it’s not only very confronting as it is, but it’s also very confronting when the technology doesn't work properly. So these are very fundamental issues, we're talking about moving standardised education testing online. I hear horror stories and I'm sure Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtman hear the same. Horror stories of people who literally have to park outside the public library to gain access to their free WiFi just so their kids can download what they need to be able to study that night. Now that's just not acceptable in 2017. 

MAC: Yeah I have heard that, and I've heard that around Australia. Michelle I'll ask on behalf of our regular host of this program, Tim Shaw, that as this survey evolves and the results come through could you please stay in touch with us and I’m sure that Tim would love to have a chat with you down the track about the results.

ROWLAND: Absolutely, and if your listeners would like to complete the survey you can go to my Facebook page or find the link on Twitter, it’s pretty easy to find. I'm sure Gai Brodtman and Andrew Leigh would be happy to provide that as well.

MAC: Michelle Rowland, thank you very much for your time and as we say, hopefully you'll be having a chat with Tim or indeed Chris Coleman, our afternoon host, as the survey progresses. Thanks for your time.

ROWLAND: Thank you.