We've dissected the ins and outs of the National Broadband Network scheme to show what it means for you, the end-user. With a federal election looming on August 21 and the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott promising different outcomes for the NBN should they win the election, now’s the time to get informed and understand what it is all about.
So, what is the NBN?
Short for National Broadband Network, the NBN was an election promise tabled by former PM Kevin Rudd in 2007. The idea is to construct a super-fast broadband network in Australia utilising fibre to the home (FTTH), wireless and satellite technologies. The NBN will provide lighting-fast Internet access to Australians. Beyond this it has the potential to revolutionise a number of industries — TV, for example — and create new business models.
Ok, what’s so good about it?
Initially, around 90 per cent of Australian homes would have received FTTH, but that has been revised to 93 per cent: a total of 1.6 million homes. Speeds of up to 100Mbps (12 times faster than ADSL2+) were initially promised for fibre connections, with 12mbps speeds promised on wireless and satellite connections. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has revealed the network will actually offer speeds of up 1 gigabit per second, 10 times faster than 100Mbps.
Who is going to build and manage it?
Labor set up a Government-owned enterprise last year called NBN Co which is facilitating the construction of the NBN. This wholesale-only entity will sell its infrastructure to retail service providers (RSPs) like Telstra, Optus and iiNet. Then end users can purchase Internet and phone services like normal from these RSPs.
What is all this talk about Telstra and NBN Co teaming up?
NBN Co is paying Telstra to migrate many of the telco's fixed-line customers to the fibre-optic-based NBN, as well as utilise some of Telstra's existing infrastructure. It will cost NBN Co $5 billion for the infrastructure and $4 billion to migrate customers; that’s $9 billion all up.
How much will it cost to build?
The NBN is expected to cost around $43 billion dollars with taxpayers forking out more than half of that amount, but an implementation study released in May detailed how the network could be built for significantly less.
How do I get it?
Steady on there, it’s still being built! However households in Tasmania who are part of the Government’s ‘Stage 1’ rollout already have Internet access through the NBN. It’s going to take about seven years to complete but the rollout of the NBN may reach your area sooner than you expect. 19 new locations in ‘Stage 2’ have been announced with construction beginning in 2011.
How much will it cost for me to connect to the NBN?
In the implementation study released by Conroy in May, RSPs could access wholesale fibre services for around $30-$35 and then sell them to end users for about $50-$60 a month. Check out our breakdown of NBN Tasmania prices, with services starting at just $29.95 per month.
Do I have to sign up to be connected to the NBN?
Currently, NBN Co needs the home owner’s permission to connect fibre to their homes in an ‘opt-in’ method. However, Conroy has stated that he supports an ‘opt-out’ model whereby residents would have to choose not to have fibre connected.
I live in a rural area, will I get the NBN?
Many rural areas will be covered by the NBN. The Government has said that the remaining 7 per cent of Australian homes will be covered by satellite and wireless connections. A full list of rollouts is available at the NBN Co Web site.
Is the NBN just about fast Internet access?
The bandwidth offered by the NBN means there are numerous possibilities for using the network beyond just "fast Internet". A faster broadband connection means entertainment options like IPTV (TV over broadband) are likely to become more common. The health sector also stands to benefit as it could deliver digital applications to help with treatment in rural areas, including remote medical consultation, diagnosis and treatment. Conroy has described the NBN as "a key enabler for e-health applications".
Gillard recently announced a $392 million initiative that promotes online consultations with GPs for people living in rural areas. According to the PM, "Instead of being on the phone you can be on the broadband; instead of a voice at the other end of the line there will be a person in your lounge room and you will be able to talk to them about that health emergency at night from your own home."
In terms of education, the first school connected to the NBN is already exploring possibilities offered by increased bandwidth; for example high-def video conferencing and virtual classrooms.
With the election soon, will the NBN be completed?
Gillard has promised Australians that the scheme will be completed should she win but Abbott has vowed to dismantle the NBN project.
What is the Coalition's alternative to the NBN?
Abbott has promised Australians a $6 billion alternative to the NBN that uses a mix of wireless and satellite technologies, as well as improving existing ADSL2+ services. The Coalition Government will also build a new fibre backhaul, that will enable RSPs to offer internet access over networks other than Telstra, but the fibre won't be connected directly to homes and businesses, as it would under the NBN. The Coalition promises speeds of 12Mbps for 97 per cent of Australians. Industry experts have raised concerns about the plan, with telecommunications analyst Paul Budde describing it as a "heap of little bits and pieces".