The NBN has been a national issue since it was first proposed nine years ago. Intended to address deficiencies in Australia’s communication and infrastructure, the NBN would ensure that Australia was positioned to use the possibilities offered by the Internet.
It’s always been controversial. The high cost, the length of time required to build the network, the technology involved, and the government’s place to do so have ensured that the NBN has been a hotly contested issue.
But much of the focus on the NBN has been as a national issue, fought in national politics. Nine years on, with the NBN rollout well under way, it’s worth seeing the NBN as a local issue, too.
In the ACT, the NBN rollout has focused most on northern Canberra, particularly the new suburbs of Gungahlin. According to its 2015 plan, NBN Co. plans to builds on the Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) cable networks owned by ACT utilities company TransACT with more FttN cabling, improving the relatively new and efficient network already in place.
NBN Co.’s plan for southern Canberra is much less developed or optimal: it intends to deploy more FttN cabling throughout suburbs that already have it and compete directly with TransACT. What's more, it intends to do so over the next three years.
Gai Brodtmann, MP for Canberra, believes this plan is inadequate.
‘I’ve been running a campaign for the last twelve months to actually get Canberra put on the NBN map,’ she told UniPollWatch.
According to Brodtmann, the ACT’s south needs to be prioritised over areas that already possess adequate service. ‘They’re some of the worst speeds in the country, here, twenty-five kilometres from Parliament House.’
It’s a criticism echoed by residents of the ACT’s so-called 'nappy valley'.
Malcolm Harrington, of Tuggeranong, argues that the infrastructure needs to be built where it’s needed now. ‘I do not need the NBN,’ he told UniPollWatch, ‘but other residents have poor service from Telstra. They are five kilometres away from the node, meaning [that] speeds are slow and drop out, and the cables are prone to water damage and lightning strikes.’
Another resident of Tuggeranong, Kierain Bunton, agrees that the infrastructure isn’t adequate.
‘I understand that it is difficult to go into old suburbs and tear up the streets to lay new wiring,’ he told UniPollWatch. ‘Installation is time consuming, causes road closures and blockages, and uses billions of dollars of taxpayer money. But these are areas that need to be prioritised, rather than those with relatively modern networks.’
It’s not just a short-term cost of building the network. As Brodtmann argues, delay impedes opportunities for those living in regions like Tuggeranong.
‘We’ve got significant impediments to small business as a result of the lack of the NBN, significant impediments to educational opportunities, and significant impediments to what I call ‘active citizenry’,’ she told UniPollWatch.
In the end, as Tuggeranong resident Gloria Jackson says, services need to be accessible.
‘I think people who have deficient or excessively expensive services should be prioritised.’