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Co-investment bid pushes to get NBN rollout up to top speed

REGIONAL Development Australia Northern Rivers wants co-investment in the NBN allowed, in a bid to roll out local infrastructure faster.

A submission sent by the RDA to the Department of Communications broadband cost-benefit analysis panel, titled Review Of Regulatory Arrangements For The National Broadband Network, spells out the request in no uncertain terms.

The seven-page submission also calls for an equitable NBN cost for Northern Rivers residents, comparable to metropolitan Australia, and notes fast tracking the high speed internet service is critical for the area.

OPINION: Northern Rivers internet services are in dire need of an overhaul and this is the best option on the table

"To progress fast-tracked access to NBN-speed broadband, Northern Rivers business, local councils and individuals have expressed a willingness to co-invest with government, working with private sector providers to build critical infrastructure," the submission states.

"To enable this to happen, changes are required to remove all the bottlenecks and artificial barriers that prevent the region accessing existing optical fibre infrastructure and gaining access to NBN-speeds and NBN pricing.

"We recommend appropriate changes in legislation, regulation and policy to encourage private sector providers to be licensed to install the required new infrastructure, access existing and new infrastructure, and that markets be opened for national and local RSPs (retail service providers) to access backhaul capacity at NBN standard pricing."

The new chief executive of Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers, Kimmaree Thompson, said she considered fast and reliable internet the "backbone" of the region's economic future.

"At the moment we have businesses that can't move to this region because they can't access broadband," Ms Thompson, who started in the role in January, said.

"It's very difficult to service clients in Sydney let alone overseas when your internet can't even handle Skype.

"The ADSL1 currently available is almost equivalent to dial-up from a business perspective."

RDA added that the "lack of modern commercial-grade broadband" was impacting on the region's economic resilience, saying it "has progressively driven prime age adults out of the Northern Rivers".

The submission makes it clear a quick rollout of the NBN is essential for businesses, especially those relying on national communications and sales.

OPINION: RDA plan is ambitious but it's the best plan we've got

REGIONAL Development Australia - Northern Rivers' proposal to bring decent broadband internet to the region is plausible but will require a whole-hearted acceptance by the Federal Government to succeed.

At the risk of over-simplification, the proposal is:

  • for the government to bring parts of Telstra's infrastructure into the National Broadband Network early;
  • force the telco to allow local internet service providers access to that infrastructure at NBN prices (Telstra will let them access it now, but at a much higher rate); and
  • allow private contractors to do whatever work is required to connect businesses and, so long as they're at it, homes.

Given the intensity of the wrangling involved in getting access to Telstra's copper network and pipes, the proposal is ambitious - maybe even optimistic given this government's stance to the RDAs.

However, Northern Rivers internet services are in dire need of an overhaul and this is the best option on the table.

A report in this week's Star on a Goonellabah resident who was told, jokingly, he would have to wait for someone to die to get an ADSL2+ connection, has triggered a storm of comments from readers complaining about their internet connections. It's worth noting, the region's dodgy internet has nothing to do with the Coalition's planned changes to the NBN. Under the original plan developed under Labor we were still going to have to wait of years - possibly another decade - for decent broadband to reach the Northern Rivers.

And while it may not come as a shock to hear places such as Bonalbo have a lousy connection, it is a surprise to hear some new housing estates are also going without good internet.

There are new estates going up across the Northern Rivers. However, the only four of those - Tallowood at Mullumbimby, Wollongbar Park, a small section of Ballina Heights, and the Seabreeze Estate at Pottsville - have full NBN access. The remainder, mostly because they were approved before rules requiring new estates to be connected to the NBN were put in place, are going up with the mixed-bag of ADSL, wireless and satellite internet so familiar to most Northern Rivers residents.

At a time when so much of our lives - work, education, communications, shopping, entertainment - depend on the internet, the mixed-bag approach to internet services no longer works. The internet unlike, say, TV, is no longer a luxury item and Reliable, fast, affordable connections are essential.

The RDA's proposal offers the best and surest path to this - now all we need is for the Federal Government to recognise that and to back the proposal with words, action and investment.

Topics:  internet national broadband network nbn regional development australia northern rivers



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