Regional review warns NBN upgrades will widen digital divide, deems fixed 6Mbps wireless download speeds unreasonable

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Regardless of your political leanings, under an Australian government of either stripe, one of the initial problems with the NBN is that there’s no sensible way to get the whole network on one some form of parity.

Indeed, while the built-up areas cross their collective fingers and hope their name will appear on a suburban list to get fiber-to-the-node upgrades, there are still parts of the NBN’s allocations on fixed services without wire and satellite. And for those people, the absolute theoretical best is 50 Mbps, but the practical benchmark is 25 Mbps.

The NBN satellite service was so disappointing in the early years that Labour, the party that bought the satellites when NBN was created, called for a review of the technology in 2017.

The state of rural and regional connectivity, as well as the increase in data consumption reflected across the country, were discussed in the Regional Telecommunications Review released on Monday which was completed by a committee chaired by former national deputy and shadow regional communications minister, Luke Hartsuyker.

“[With] announcement of further landline upgrades to meet future demand, the demarcation between those within the NBN landline footprint and those outside of it threatens to aggravate existing digital divides unless more is done for users of NBN’s fixed wireless and satellite networks,” the report said.

Those on satellite connections, according to the report, felt constrained due to peak and off-peak data quota usage, and users were reluctant to have voice services delivered over satellites due to data issues. latency and weather events such as fading rain or heavy cloud offering less resilience than the current copper-based landline option for voice.

Not that the report has many positive thoughts about the current copper network either.

“The copper and other networks used to deliver landline services in the regions are deteriorating, and not enough is being done within the existing consumer protection framework to ensure they are properly maintained to the standards expected by regional users,” he said.

The report called for obligations for Telstra to prevent copper faults, rather than correcting them after they occur, as well as annual reporting on the telecom operator’s maintenance program as part of its USO bonds.

“Regional, rural and remote consumers would be better served by a regulatory regime for repairs and maintenance that, instead of applying individual rebates or offsets, is applied to all technologies and uses large and escalating penalties to ensure that providers are encouraged to actively prevent, identify and resolve network failures,” he said.

The report called on the NBN to move satellite users to fixed wireless where it can, although this technology also has its own problems, particularly with regard to the speeds offered to users.

“[While] NBN Co has its own minimum performance target of 6 Mbps during busy hours, which is too low to meet reasonable consumer expectations,” the report states.

“Any standard imposed on SIPs [statutory infrastructure providers] should impose a peak hour speed target for uploads and downloads to ensure that services meet demand during peak usage periods. »

In recent releases of fixed wireless performance statistics by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), it was shown that supposed fixed wireless plans of 25-50 Mbps down and 5 at 20Mbps upwards are barely able to break the 6Mbps mark for download speeds, and have been that way for some time.

“We suggest that this 6 Mbps target and other speed targets need to be tightened significantly as demand continues to increase and network strain increases. This is especially important for download performance,” says The report.

“NBN Co recently introduced Fixed Wireless Plus plans, which provide increased download speeds over the network. However, the Panel heard that download speeds on these plans have been reduced from an initial 20 Mbps to just 10 Mbps.

“This is insufficient for many activities for which high-bandwidth users seek to use the service and incompatible with the download speeds available to fixed-line consumers.”

Addressing mobile communications, the committee was in line with the ACCC’s recent calls for a standard for measuring mobile telecommunications coverage.

At the heart of the matter, telecom operators interpret coverage record-keeping rules in different ways. Optus and TPG do this primarily with predicted outdoor coverage on a standard handset, while Telstra predicts coverage based on the presence of an external antenna.

“Much of the coverage information available to consumers either uses predictive assumptions that do not reflect lived experience, or inconsistent terminology that makes it difficult to compare competing service offerings. Consumers, businesses, and policy makers need to being able to access accurate and granular coverage information that is questionable through ‘in the field’ performance data,” he said.

“The Australian Government can play a role in collecting, standardizing, publishing and challenging this coverage information to help users.”

In addition to coverage, the committee recommended the government do its own testing of signal strength and network congestion to develop a tool for consumers.

The committee also called for a minimum of coordination between different levels of government when considering investments in regional Australia, and said federal and state governments should work together to identify priority regions and growth corridors.

“During consultations, the committee heard of significant investment by the Australian Government, states and territories to establish new advanced manufacturing facilities and industrial estates in areas such as Parkes, NSW and Emerald, Queensland” , he wrote.

“However, these have not been supported by the provision of enterprise-grade digital connectivity infrastructure, whether by NBN Co or on a third-party basis. Without access to appropriate connectivity options, in Particularly when it comes to fiber backbone connectivity, these facilities are unable to take advantage of autonomy, cloud services and other productivity measures, putting them at a disadvantage against their urban competitors and reducing costs. benefits of public investments.

The report notes that some local councils have questioned why they need in-house telecommunications capacity or to co-fund infrastructure upgrades, given that the responsibility does not lie with that level of government.

When dealing with emergency situations, the report says governments and telecom operators should come together to carry out nationwide roaming trials in disaster areas to ensure reliable communications for all in such situations.

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