NBN and the Coalition backtracks after facing massive community backlash for forcing thousands of homes and businesses in west coast Tasmania onto satellite
It’s possibly the height of hypocrisy. The Government who led the charge to remove fixed-line communications in thousands of homes and business in Tasmanian West Coast communities is now “announcing” that they’re rolling out Fibre to the Node (FTTN) and Fixed Wireless networks in the townships of Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan and Strahan after massive community backlash.
Queenstown, the largest of the communities, already has existing fixed-line infrastructure including ADSL2+ and 4G mobile connections provided by Telstra. The initial commitment by the former NBN-management was to rollout Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) to Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan. This later changed to Fibre to the Node (FTTN) when the Coalition’s preferred Multi-Technology Mix model was introduced.
However, jxeeno blog’s analysis of the 18 month construction plan last July showed these areas were removed from the Fixed-Line rollout schedule. It was later revealed in a Senate hearing that these towns were permanently removed after from the fixed-line rollout in favour of the long term satellite service. This is despite the Coalition’s initiated Strategic Review modelled that the satellite beam servicing west coast Tasmania will likely be “severely oversubscribed”.
Up until this week, Queenstown remained the largest suburb covered entirely by the Long Term Satellite Service — originally intended for remote communities.
After strong community resistance arguing that their “new” national broadband network connections will be worse than their existing ADSL2+ services (in terms of latency and data allowances) and continued questioning by Tasmanian Labor Senator Anne Urquhart in various Senate hearings — it looks like for once, politics and community resistance has finally made a difference to the National Broadband Network’s so-called Multi-Technology Mix.
Now only if the broader outcry for reforming the Multi-Technology Mix is heard.
There’s something unusual about the way NBN is planning to service the West Coast of Tasmania.
The company is preferring to place over five thousand Australians onto an already oversubscribed network with a single point of failure 36,000 km away from Earth in favour of a fibre network without a redundant loop. Supposedly, this is more redundant.
The company originally planned to roll out a fixed line network (presumably Fibre to the Node) as well as fixed wireless in and around the townships of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan. The plan was to utilise an existing fibre that already services the towns to deliver the service.
The company has since backflipped on these plans, claiming that a second fibre path is required to provide fixed-line services and such costs would be “too expensive” to build.
These are townships with existing fibre and microwave transit network, they already for 3G/4G mobile networks, plus ADSL or ADSL2+ Internet.
Does NBN seriously think dealing with issues with the satellite 36,000 km away from Earth’s surface is easier to fix than a single fibre spur network that already currently services those towns?
Could NBN consider using satellite or microwave network as the second, redundant path in case the main fibre breaks?
What’s a “Shallow dive”? Shallow dives are a content format I’m trying out. Essentially, they are shorter, more concise pieces to either summarise detailed analysis pieces I’ve written — or briefly write about topics that I don’t yet have the time to analyse in detail. Think of them as a TL;DR of the original piece.
Tasmanian communities of Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan and Strahan will be forced onto an already “severely oversubscribed” satellite beam.
The company building the National Broadband Network (nbn) has revealed that they will no longer provide a fixed-line or fixed wireless solution to major settlements located along the west coast of Tasmania.
Up till July this year, nbn has released various rollout plans showing the towns of Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan and Strahan as candidates for the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) and Fixed Wireless rollouts which would have seen Fibre to the Node be rolled out to the majority of premises. The area was also expected to receive a Fibre to the Premises rollout under the previous all-fibre NBN policy.
Queenstown: 1,300 FTTN
Rosebery: 600 FTTN, 300 FW
Zeehan: 500 FTTN
Strahan: (originally planned for NBN Fixed Wireless)
However, when questioned by Senator Anne Urquhart at a Senate Estimates hearing last month — nbn‘s chief executive Bill Morrow revealed that they have re-allocated premises in those areas to be serviced by the recently launched NBN Satellite. Citing high costs of up to $20 million to build out a second fibre path to the west coast towns, the executive said:
Because of the cost to provide fibre services in the backhaul sense to serve within the FTTN. The area only has one fibre path going out to it, and you need to have two for redundant based services. The cost—and we have looked at it a number of different times—to provide fibre out there in a different path makes it exorbitantly expensive.
The move to satellite has also been independently confirmed using NBN’s internal technology modelling. However, the towns affected are all currently being serviced by Telstra ADSL/ADSL2+ services, with Queenstown having access to the Telstra 4G network as well.
“Severely Oversubscribed” Satellite Beams
The beams servicing this area, number 54 and 56, has also been identified by NBN’s Fixed Wireless/Satellite Strategic Review as being “severely oversubscribed” prior to the redesignation of the fixed-line footprint in July. Adding another 3,000 premises would not improve the satellite congestion anticipated in those areas.
However, given the availability of existing ADSL/ADSL2+ services in those towns, it is unlikely that residents will switch to the National Broadband Network due to increased latency. As revealed last month, nbn will implement a fair use policy for the NBN satellite. While the final policy is yet to be confirmed, the first version released saw a standard quota of 75GB per month… a far cry from the current data quotas on comparable ADSL plans.
A report written by Engineers Australia in 2010 stated that the affected towns (amongst others) were serviced by Telstra using microwave backhaul links rather than fibre at the time it was written. However, the testimony given by nbn executives at Senate Estimates suggests that a single non-redundant fibre path has been built since the report was written.
Originally, it appears that nbn had planned to build its transit network out to Queenstown (see diagram below, published in March 2014) using a single non-redundant spur fibre path from Sheffield or Burnie.
$20 million to build a redundant path to service ~3,000 potential customers does seem unreasonably high. I don’t think it’s wise to go ahead to do spend that money.
However, it does beg the question why NBN cannot use their own microwave links as the redundancy path to service the west coast communities. Given there is supposedly already a single fibre path that nbn can utilise, using microwave links as a redundancy path would surely be cheaper than fibre — right?
nbn has effectively neglected these communities. I doubt anyone who lives in an area with existing, well-established communications infrastructure like ADSL/ADSL2+ connections and Telstra 4G mobile reception would opt for a NBN Satellite connection given their smaller data allowances (compared with fixed-line DSL) and higher latency. This is most unfortunate, given National Broadband Network is supposed to fix and improve connectivity around Australia — not offer a degraded version of it.
I’ve seen isolated cases like this in the past — people able to access existing DSL broadband but placed on the satellite… but not to this scale. Not entire communities like this.
Yes, nbn‘s current Government policy is to build the network out “at the least possible cost”… but that doesn’t mean putting thousands of premises into an already severely congested satellite beam! Our former communications minister, now PM’s buzzword of being “agile” seems to be lost at nbn. Surely as a special case, there can be alternative arrangements made for the redundant path?