NBN must provide all Australians with at least 25Mbps downloads under new legislation that came into effect today.
Part of the Telecommunications Reform Package that passed parliament in May, the legislation creates a legal obligation for a Statutory Infrastructure Provider – NBN Co by default – to provide broadband to all Australian premises.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the legislation updates existing Universal Service Obligation laws that previously only required all Australians have access to telephone services.
“These historic laws mean that all Australians can access high-speed broadband, no matter where they live or work,” Minister Fletcher said.
“Telecommunications has long been recognised as an essential utility and the government is committed to providing access to reliable high-speed broadband for all Australians.
“The legislation commencing today locks that commitment into law.”
Peak speeds of at least 25Mbps download and 5Mbps upload are the base-level requirements for all connections.
Where needed, other network providers could also be considered as the Statutory Infrastructure Provider for broadband, for example, where another network is servicing new real estate developments.
While the scheme provides a legal obligation for NBN Co to connect premises to the national network, affordability remains a concern for many Australians.
A report from Infrastructure Australia last year flagged that the cost of connecting to the NBN kept vulnerable Australians offline – further increasing the digital divide.
And according to a report from the government’s Bureau of Communications and Arts Research released in April, low-income households tend to avoid fixed-line broadband in favour of mobile data services that can be purchased ad-hoc, instead of needing to commit to long-term contracts.
Unfortunately, this results in people paying more per GB of data, therefore restricting their access to the internet.
Speaking to the ABC this week, CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), Teresa Corbin, called this a “poverty premium”.
ACCAN wants to see the government subsidise the NBN for low-income earners to bring more Australians into the 21st century.
“If people are offered a fixed broadband connection, they're actually going to be able to access training and employment a lot easier,” Corbin said.
“If we're going to get the full economic benefit out of the NBN, then we need to make sure that everybody is connected.”
Some 11.6 million premises were ready to connect to the NBN in May, but only 7.1 million were connected, according to NBN Co.
With the planned rollout just about complete, NBN Co is also facing criticism for its multi technology mix (MTM) that has seen the wholesaler invest in copper cable to finish off the network.
RMIT’s Mark Gregory published an article in the Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy last year arguing for NBN to commit to a fibre to the premise (FTTP) upgrade.
“Are Australian taxpayers getting value for the $51 billion committed by the Australian government to the MTM NBN? In respect of most measures, the MTM NBN is not fit for purpose,” he said.
“It is not future proof, it does not meet current nor future demand, it is unreliable and has a higher [operating expense] than that for a ubiquitous FTTP network.”