Fair go needed for north-west coast on NBN

I recently read a piece in The Advocate newspaper regarding the activation of the NBN in the North West town of Somerset, backed up by an editorial on how people of the North West Coast should stop complaining about eventually receiving Fiber to the Node (FttN) v the far superior Fiber to the Premises (FttP). 

Firstly, its wonderful news that Somerset NBN is active and ready to go; FttP all the way. However, I've heard anecdotally that an ISP had recently held an 'Introduction to NBN' day in Somerset, where residents could come in and learn more about the product. 
Our feedback was that two thirds of residents (many elderly), mentioned they don't have a need for the NBN as they don't even own a computer. Given this, how can it be that Somerset was ever chosen as a site for the NBN? How did the Village of Somerset come before the needs of business and industry in Burnie, Ulverstone and Devonport? 
With Somerset's activation, we're continuing the trend from many of the regional trial sites and test beds (Smithton, Scottsdale and now Somerset), the take up rate is going to be miniscule, simply because there isn't the demand for the service. What a waste of taxpayers money and a waste of time for those waiting with a genuine need for faster speeds.

The low demand in Somerset is in stark contrast to the CBDs of Burnie, Ulverstone and Devonport, housing businesses that have both the need and the money to pay for quality Internet connections, areas that have been completely left off the NBN roll-out map until beyond 2017. This adds to our region's comparative disadvantage to the population centers within the state, interstate and overseas.

Regarding the argument between FttP and FttN, as a business owner (41st Degree Software) in desperate need for the NBN, for the short term I don't mind, whatever, I'm pleading with you, anything that will enable us to get acceptable speeds - the sooner the better. For the long term though (10+ years), again the North West Coast will be at a disadvantage, as everywhere that has received FttP will be able to upgrade their connections to 1Gbps and beyond, whilst we languish, stuck utilising ageing copper and having to upgrade to fibre at our own expense (an expense not having to be covered by businesses rolled out with FttP).

Secondly, the issue of download vs upload speeds. On one service, our business currently has download speeds of up to 25Mbps in the Burnie CBD. Download speeds are not the issue. Our issue is with upload speeds. On the same service we have a theoretical maximum upload speed of 1Mbps. This ~1Mbps has to handle our file uploads (we're content creators), our phone calls (we use VOIP) in addition to the regular traffic that 8 employees create (web traffic, email, Skype etc). Our network requirements are a nightmare on current technology and will continue to be until 2017 (assuming all goes well).

To get around these issues, we must pay for multiple Internet services - wired, wireless, you name it we've got it. Our Internet bill for the year is in excess of $12k. We are a small business. This is the nightmarish reality for many businesses on the North West Coast, with many paying in excess of $2k a month for something like 4Mpbs down/4Mbps up. Businesses are forced into paying for the upload speeds whilst being stuck with slow downloads (4Mpbs v 25Mbps), paying out the nose for it and in many cases having to do so for multiple services.

If the NBN was in place, we could cut this cost to around $150 a month, $1800 for the year, so for us a $10k a year saving. That doesn't even take in to account the gains in productivity to be had. We estimate slow connections cost our business tens of thousands a year in lost time, enough that we could employ an additional person if these issues were solved. Unfortunately we're too busy paying for Internet connections that don't fit our needs, so sorry Uni graduate, or TAFE student, or college leaver, we don't have a place for you this year because there are 4 routers sitting in your seat.

The North West Coast continues to be let down by Federal Government policy-makers and NBN Co. There can be no justification for areas like Deloraine, Somerset and Smithton having superior quality NBN technology than Burnie, Ulvestone and Devonport. 

FttN would be adequate for now (if it were here, as 2017 is a long way off), it gets the North West Coast 'in the game', but the region cannot afford to just 'be in the game', it needs a competitive advantage to deal with the many issues it faces. Unless the people of the North West Coast stand up very quickly on this issue, it will be looking at further long-term, structural economic disadvantages that will cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity and lost business and it will be up to the remaining businesses or Governments of the day to replace the copper that should be being replaced now. 

Surely somebody in Hobart or Canberra has the foresight to not just try and pinch a few pennies at the expense of real job opportunities today. With a major employer in Caterpillar deciding to leave the North West Coast, one would expect that there will be some sort of Government intervention, some sort of economic response.

It's black and white: invest in our infrastructure. We just want a fair go.

Let the businesses of the North West Coast do what they do best, employ and compete on the global stage... but for crying out loud, let us do it without having our hands tied behind our backs, now and in to the future.

Let's make the investment and future proof the CBD's and industrial precincts of North West Coast with FttP and lets do it now, not in 2017 and not when there is nothing left for us to do but watch Netflix on the 'acceptable' FttN in our houses.

Rob Vernon is a Board Member of TasICT and co-owner of 41st Degree Software.


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