Millions of regional residents will finally get access to full fibre NBN services after the latest government Budget committed $2.4 billion to upgrade 1.5 million homes and businesses – at an average cost of $1,600 each – from outdated fibre to the node (FttN) technologies.
The upgrades will be rolled out over coming years, with NBN Co expecting to be able to offer higher-speed services that are only available over fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) connections to around 10 million homes by 2025.
That’s an increase from current projections of 8 million premises by the end of 2023 – which is itself an upgrade from projections made by the former Morrison government in 2020, which was targeting 6 million FttP homes by 2023 after it invested $4.5 billion in FttP upgrades in a monumental policy backflip.
Around 550,000 FttN premises are on track to be eligible for an FttP upgrade by the end of this year.
As the new services are completed, residents and businesses will be able to progressively contact their Internet service providers to order the 500Mbps and faster Home Ultrafast plan announced in mid-2020, as well as Home Fast plans at up to 100Mbps and Home Superfast at up to 250Mbps.
The new funding – which makes good on a Labor election promise first made a year ago – “will deliver faster and more reliable NBN to more families, communities, and businesses,” Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said in announcing the Budget funding, “and allow more Australians to take advantage of an increasingly digital global economy.”
More than 660,000 regional premises – around 17 per cent of all regional premises – will be targeted for upgrades under the new funding program, with NBN Co this week announcing the suburbs where 300,000 of those homes will be located.
That includes many Victorian areas where the rollout will be co-funded in the third stage of an ongoing agreement between NBN Co and that state’s government.
A partial list of targeted areas includes Bairnsdale, Inverloch, Koo Wee Rup, Moe, Strathdale, and Wendouree (Victoria); Bowral, Corowa, Katoomba, Moree, Port Kembla, Griffith, and Wagga Wagga (NSW); Beerwah, Emerald, Gympie, Pimpama, Urangan, and Windaroo (Queensland); Hahndorf, Mount Barker, and Williston (SA); Australind, Dawesville, Leschenault, and West Busselton (WA); and Longford and Shearwater (Tasmania).
“We are working to unlock new social and economic benefits by pushing fibre deeper into communities,” NBN Co chief operating officer Kathrine Dyer said, noting that “in addition to the inherent speed benefits offered by FttP, these full fibre connections significantly reduce the number of copper connections in our network.”
By reducing the company’s reliance on those copper-based FttN services – for which NBN Co paid Telstra $11 billion in 2014, then contracted the telecommunications monopolist to maintain on its behalf – the upgrades are also expected to reduce NBN Co’s ongoing maintenance costs.
“Fibre,” Dyer said, “is inherently more capable of delivering faster upload and download speeds, is generally more reliable than copper connections, and reduces our maintenance and operating costs.”
Backing away from “mismanagement”
The battle between Labor’s vision of a universal fibre-based NBN, and the Coalition’s policy preference to utilise existing outdated telecommunications infrastructure, has raged for over 13 years and spans six prime ministerships.
Coalition governments argued continuously that deploying FttP was too expensive, with allegations of manipulation as ministers tenaciously reiterated claims that fibre infrastructure costed $4,400 per premises on average – despite costs dropping by nearly half everywhere else in the world over the past decade.
The new investment, by contrast, prices FttP upgrades at just $1,600 per premises, underscoring the financial model of a new Accenture analysis that suggests upgrading an additional 1.5 million premises to FttP could create $20 billion additional GDP by 2030.
The FttP construction work alone is expected to generate $2.6 billion in economic activity through 2026, creating thousands of jobs for construction workers, engineers, and project managers in regional and city areas.
“For nearly a decade, the Liberal and Nationals’ oversight of the NBN has been a masterclass in technological incompetence and financial mismanagement,” Rowland said, “causing Australia to trail other developed countries on broadband quality and speeds.”
“Whilst this cannot be undone overnight, it’s essential we get this repair job underway.”
The effect of early structural decisions was laid clear earlier this year, when comparative speed testing showed that Australia’s NBN was fast but, thanks to its configured balance between download and upload speed, lagged New Zealand services built during the same period.
Availability of top-speed Internet services to regional, rural, and remote communities will help “enhance equity of access to quality broadband infrastructure,” Rowland said, noting its potential benefits to “vulnerable Australians” and role as an economic multiplier.
“So much of what we do at home depends on reliable, high-speed internet,” she said. “This commitment will ensure no one is left behind.”