National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010

Madam Deputy Speaker in making my contribution to this debate on the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures – Access Arrangements) Bill 2010, my mind turns to an email from a Chifley constitutent, and another Woodcroft resident, Christopher Jadhav, who writes:

“I am writing to bring to your attention the plight of the residents of Woodcroft regarding bad internet connections.  Telstra has not bothered to invest in infrastructure and therefore we are unable to get cable or ADSL2 connections.  Also for some unknown reason we cannot connect to other providers and we are the mercy of whatever Telstra will provide us at an exorbitant and uncompetitive price.  Woodcroft is the only suburb which is disadvantaged as far as internet connectivity is concerned…could you please look into this at the earliest and raise this issue in Parliament and get it sorted.”

This is not the first time that I have raised in this place the plight of Woodcroft residents when trying to get something that is becoming an increasingly important feature of modern living: reliable, high speed communication and information access via the net.

Only a few weeks later, I had residents sufficiently moved to go around their neighbourhood and prepare the following petition:

“We are living in Woodcroft for a long time but we are disadvantaged by a slow internet connection at a higher price, normally $40 to $50 for ADSL2+landline, but here, up to $90 to $100 for ADSL1. Telstra is having a monopoly in this area ad we don’t have any other provider with cables in Woodcroft, where only secondary loops are available, no primary loops.  We pay double the amount paid by customers in other areas and we don’t get access for ADSL2.  We would like to have your kind attention to this issue.  Some of our friends working in software jobs left this area due to slow speed of internet and some of our friends are thinking to leave.  Please take action to stop years of rip-off…”

That is signed by 17 neighbours who got together because they are frustrated by the lack of access.  I want those residents to know that their concerns aren’t just heard – but that I’ll do what I can in this place – and elsewhere – to stand up for them and get them some sort of help, having been failed in the past by a former Government who had no ability to solve this problem.

This week I and the member for Greenway will be meeting with NBN Co to press the case for Woodcroft residents along with residents of Greenway.

I’m pleased to say that residents in Chifley have the potential to benefit from being amongst the first wave of Australians able to access the NBN, after the Government announced last year that Riverstone would form the centre of a second release site in NSW, specifically within Western Sydney.   Potentially 3000 homes will be connected.

This rollout can’t come quick enough, with residents across generations united in their desire to get access to super-fast internet.  At this point I’d like to recognize the work of some special groups in the Chifley electorate who are helping older Australians connect with modern technology – those groups being Blacktown Computer Pals and the Rooty Hill & Districts Seniors Computing Club.  Groups that would love the benefits promised by the NBN.

These Bills build on the historic reforms that the House agreed upon at the conclusion of the 2010 sittings.

The companies bill sets up a framework for the operation and legal status of the NBN.  It also puts in place mechanisms for potential private ownership.

The access arrangements makes the necessary adjustments to competition laws to ensure the NBN can be the platform for open and non-discriminatory access to retail carriers using its wholesale services.  This is while provide something that we have been lacking for years – the ability for competition to grow from the basis of a uniform, wholesale network.  We really have to stand and congratulate the government on this legislation.

While the rest of the country relishes the prospect of gaining access to super-fast internet access enjoyed by many other countries, there is one group that is determined to what they can to block the communities access to this infrastructure.

Not for the national interest – but for their own political interest.
That group is the Coalition.

I can understand that the Liberal Party is doing its best to stop the NBN – it proves yet again they have no interest in meeting the infrastructure needs of Western Sydney residents.

The Nationals lemming-like support of a Coalition approach to “demolish the NBN”, as the Leader of the Opposition has stated, is astounding.  Regional Australia knows super-fast internet access is critical to ensure that the regions enjoy the ability to tap into an infrastructure that their city cousins have enjoyed for years.

My friend, the Member for Throsby, highlighted some of the views of the media from a vibrant region of NSW, the Illawarra.

The Illawarra Mercury – a great newspaper, despite its misplaced, frenzied support for the Illawarra Hawks NBL team – called the Coalition’s position for what it is:

“Malcolm Turnbull is off the pace if he thinks the Australian people will accept a tiered system of broadband connection in which regional and suburban residents a treated as second class citizens.”

I continue to quote from this devastating editorial:

“in his (the Member for Wentworth) view town centres should get a super-fast internet connection at 100 megabits per second, while those logging on in the ‘burbs are forced to settle for a slower rate.”

There it is in a nutshell – the Coalition defending haves at the expense of have nots.

So what’s the Coalition’s preferred position?

They don’t want to rely on fibre, which “hands down” is the fastest way to deliver the internet.

They recommend a method of internet delivery that would relegate residents in suburban and regional areas to being, as described earlier, second class citizens.

That Coalition want residents in suburban and regional areas to rely upon wireless and HFC.

People react vigorously to this.  These are just some of the comments from people on Twitter and Facebook, who’ve written on my page:

I have heard them (the Coalition) say that fibre to the home is too costly and we’d be better off with wireless, because it is cheaper and faster.  How the hell (and these are quotes direct from the public) can wireless ever be quicker that a hardwired connection?”

“Wireless is awful.”

“Bring on the NBN.”

“Wireless can only do so much.”

“Wireless is so damn slow.”

“The NBN (I hasten to add that these comments from the general public, expressing their frustration) can’t come soon enough.  I just moved to the Central Coast and was nearly bullied by Telstra into going wireless because of a lack of ports on the exchange.  I ended up having my way with them.  Wireless is not enough.  I cannot stress this enough.”

There are other people who live in city areas, who say:

“I live in Sydney’s CBD and wireless does not work at my house at all.  The only way I can access internet is by ADSL.”

“Why don’t they realise that the majority of us want it.  Just because they did bugger all for so long.”

These are comments straight from the public.  Wireless is the second class option – and consumers can’t stand it.

It clogs up when many users in one area are trying to use it.  HFC faces the same hurdles if multiple connections exist in the one household, which is likely given it is generally used to deliver Foxtel.

Notably, not even the Coalition believe in the viability of wireless to deliver super-fast internet connections:

“No wireless broadband technology is able to handle the data rates of the best wireline technologies but there are many situations where the latter cannot yet be used or is simply unavailable (such as remote and regional areas, and even in some suburban metro areas).”

That’s from the report “Connecting Australia! Wireless Broadband”, delivered in 2002 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

Its chair was the Member for Sturt, now the Manager of Opposition Business.

Wireless has its place where fixed line is difficult to rollout.  It’s great when you’re on the go and away from home, people using ipads with 3G capacity will testify to that.  But would one ever seriously believe that it would be the main platform on which we would deliver reliable access for residents, particularly those I have the honour of representing in this place?

The general community knows the limitations of wireless technology.
Even the Coalition in government has recognised the limitations.

So why have they taken the position they have?

Because, paraphrasing SMH columnist Peter Hartcher’s reflections on why the Coalition opposed the flood levy even when they have a history of using levies themselves, he nailed it when he said it reflected opportunism – bare, naked, unashamed opportunism.

And who loses out? Western Sydney residents and the regional residents mentioned by the Illawarra Mercury.

The Coalition has used a variety of sham arguments to undermine the case, need and process for building the NBN.  Some of them are elitist, frankly.

Other arguments they use here don’t even stack up against their own performance in their own electorates.

For example, in the electorate that the Member for Wentworth represents, you don’t hear too many complaints about lack of internet access.  In fact it’s got some of the best access in the country.

You’ve heard me highlight the poor position of the constituents of Chifley.

So we have an inequity that we’re trying to address in this government –  that digital divide – and the Member for Wentworth says it costs too much money to fix, we need cost benefit analysis, we need Productivity Commission reports – all this to find some way to relegate us to an option that makes us “second class citizens”.

Sometimes, government infrastructure is going to cost money.
We have to make choices.

We’re doing this for the good of those jammed in the digital divide.

And there has been significant market failure – so much so, the other side tried to address that failure 19 times and came up short 19 times.
We’re fixing this once and for all.

But I want to see if word matches deed when it comes to the Member for Wentworth.

Now, people know I used to have the honour of representing postal workers in this country through a previous role.

I often fought tooth and nail to protect jobs and conditions.

I was happy to recently see support from an unlikely quarter – from both the Members for Bradfield and Wentworth.

I almost wanted to bestow on them honorary membership of my union, the CEPU!

Because – and I turn the House’s attention to a terrific article – featuring the Member for Wentworth.  It has a great photo of him.  He has no tie and his sleeves are rolled up.  I like the fact that he has no tie on.  It is a good touch, knowing my distaste of quite an old style of fashion.  He is out there mixing it up in the crowd.  The title of the article is ‘Don’t close it down’.  It basically goes on about the member for Wentworth standing up, and rightly so as a local member, for his local post office.  He took delivery of a petition.  This is from the Wentworth Courier 12 January 2011:

“Woollahra has a larger than average percentage of older people who rely on its services,”
he said.

The article states him saying that Australia Post must balance making a profit against its public service obligations.  Since the post office is part of a network and not an individual, this makes it possible.

I do not have a problem, obviously, with government’s investing in public infrastructure and services – but I am consistent.  Based on the Member for Wentworth has said on the NBN, I’d think he would want to be the same.

After being projected to lose $160,000 this year, Australia Post wanted to close the Woollahra Post Office in the seat of Wentworth.

Post said that post office had lost nearly $400,000 – nearly half a million – over three years.

What was the Member for Wentworth’s reaction?

Off with the tie, roll up the sleeves and out in the public domain demanding it remain open.

Never saw a cost benefit analysis for that.

Couldn’t find the demand for a Productivity Commission report.

No cheap advice of accepting a second class option.

Demanding the Government wear the half million dollar loss.

But why do we have to bear that hypocrisy – telling Western Suburbs residents that they just have unreal expectations for wanting the internet in their neighbourhood, while the Member for Wentworth rails against the shutdown of a service in eastern Sydney.

Be consistent.

If it’s good enough for your constituents, why’s it not good enough for residents of Chifley, Greenway, Lindsay, McMahon or Werriwa?

Don’t stand in the way of technology that can aid and enhance the lives of residents in Western Sydney, because you’re putting the opportunism and self interest of the Coalition ahead of the nation’s interest and those of the next generation of Australians – no matter where they live.

Some of the other quotes that have gone into this debate have been pearlers.  The member for Bradfield asked “Why did the government walk away from its initial proposal for fibre to the node?”.  We knowwhy: because when the bids went out, Telstra put out a deficient five-page bid that signaled, for all intents and purposes, that the main telco company in this country was not serious about broadband and we had to examine another way, to deliver a wholesale platform that would deliver results for residents.

We had the Member for Paterson advocating support for wireless technology on one hand but then arguing about mobile phone towers in his electorate.  How does he expect wireless to be delivered? This is what constitutes the great thinking of those opposite.

What about ‘the US is going wireless”?  The reason it went wireless is that the ideological brethren of the opposition, the Republican Party, opposed the plan to provide fibre to homes.

“Not enough examination of reports”.  How many reports do they want?
We have had implementation studies, we have had reports released last year.  At the end of the day, it is not about reports: it is the fact that they do not have a report that they like.

The other thing about this claim of national security that was brought up by the Member for Forrest: that is the same one that was peddled about by Telstra when they were trying to spook everyone about the government trying to get into the space of actually providing a wholesale network that could not be provided by Telstra and that was the subject of 19 failed plans.

The opposition, as has been remarked by this side, do not have a plan.  They are trying to stop people from getting access to a technology that the rest of the world enjoys.

They need to recognise the huge demand for these services, they need to get out of the way and let us get on with the job that they were simply unable to do themselves.
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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

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