I rise this evening to speak on the National Broadband Network, or the NBN, and particularly what it means for my home state of Tasmania. I am pleased that the Rudd government will deliver superfast broadband across Australia to enable us all to keep pace with the 21st century. The government has established the National Broadband Network Co., NBN Co., with an initial investment of $4.7 billion to build and operate the network. Over an eight-year period, $43 billion will be invested. The initial rollout will take place in Tasmania, my home state, with the Rudd and Bartlett governments working together to make this vision a reality. The government’s investment in NBN Co Ltd will be financed through the Building Australia Fund and the issuing of Australian infrastructure bonds. This allows households and institutions the opportunity to invest in the company.
On 25 July this year the government announced that Mr Michael Quigley had been appointed as chairperson and CEO of NBN Co. Mr Quigley has worked in the telecommunications industry for approximately four decades. His experience will stand NBN Co in good stead well into the future.
On the same day the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, joined with the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, to announce that the Smithton, Scottsdale and Midway Point areas will be the first to have access to the NBN. In these three areas alone 5,000 premises will be connected to broadband. These areas will be the demonstration ‘smart towns’. They will be the places where, on a sizeable scale, we can demonstrate just what can be achieved through fibre-to-the-premises technology.
It is exciting for all Tasmanians to know that Tasmania is to be the first to access the network, and especially that the access is not just confined to Hobart and Launceston. Far too often Tasmania is left off the map, but the Rudd government has not left Tasmania off the map. It has shown extraordinary leadership in investing in Tasmania with the National Broadband Network.
On 25 July we also saw the opening of the Aurora Energy and National Broadband Network Data Centre. It was a recommendation by the panel of experts for the NBN request for proposals process that Tasmania be the first state to receive NBN. Luckily for Tasmania, and Tasmanians, the Rudd government supported this recommendation. Tasmania was the first state to see the rollout of infrastructure for this network, thanks to the Rudd and Bartlett governments working together in the interests of improving opportunities for Tasmanians.
The NBN is the 21st century version of the Snowy Mountain scheme, and we all know the benefits that arose from that development—benefits such as ongoing employment, regional development and ongoing business investment. The Premier of Tasmania, David Bartlett, recently said:
Super-high speed broadband—through the National Broadband Network coming into this state—will have as big an impact on our lives as the dams, poles and wires of the Hydro last century.
He is absolutely right about that. When talking about broadband, the President of Tasmanian ICT, Darren Alexander, stated that it was:
… an opportunity to be one of the best, and to be first, to be able to be driving this. The one thing its doing is shining a light on Tasmania, and I think that’s what people have got to remember. We are first. A lot of people around the world are looking at us right now.
It is wonderful for Tasmania to get such positive worldwide exposure.
The NBN will be the largest infrastructure investment made by any Australian government. That is an excellent record for Labor to hold. The NBN will help build a nation with a strong economy by increasing productivity. Broadband will enable us to use the internet more efficiently and it will give us the opportunity to explore new territory.
Currently, the Australian economy is in good shape, and this is due in no small way to the Rudd government’s stimulus package and sound economic management. But, in order for Australia to achieve its full potential, we need to be both healthy and well educated. The Rudd government wants to give all Australians every opportunity to achieve both good health and a solid education. Already in Tasmania we have the online technology known as EchoCardiographic Healthcare Online Networking Expertise in Tasmania, more commonly known as ECHONET. ECHONET is used between the cardiac units of the Royal Hobart Hospital and the North West Regional Hospital, enabling doctors and patients in Burnie access to the specialists at the Royal Hobart Hospital. ECHONET received a special mention in the Australian Telecommunications Users Group National Broadband Awards in health. This award was for giving the NWRH intensive care unit the opportunity to improve diagnosis and care through the use of ECHONET. Broadband will also allow for patients to be monitored in their own homes.
Another way broadband is of immense help is for students who do home schooling through distance education and for cross-campus lectures at university. It is needed for court proceedings that have to be done from a distance. The NBN is not just a piece of wire in the ground; it is 21st-century infrastructure. It aligns more with highways and electricity wires than it does with the internet. It must be remembered that a highway is only useful because of what happens on it—how the trucks, cars, buses and other form of transport use it, and what goods are transported. A highway is the infrastructure to transport from one place to another. Electricity on its own is fundamentally useless until people use it for a purpose—to make machinery work, to heat homes and to drive new jobs. The National Broadband Network is the same. It will be the process that supports new industry, new jobs and new services for future generations. It is envisaged that revolutionary activities, those yet to be developed, will truly define it.
Broadband will see the capital cities connected to the small townships. Ninety per cent of homes, schools and workplaces will be connected to infrastructure that will be able to provide broadband at the speed of 100 megabits per second. This is 100 times faster than what is currently used by most people. Any improvement is great, but 100 times the speed is brilliant. The remaining premises will be connected to next generation wireless and satellite technologies that will be capable of delivering speeds of at least 12 megabits per second.
Unfortunately, at the moment Australia is lagging behind the other countries in the OECD. Australia is 16th in the 30 countries of the OECD when it comes to take-up of broadband. Australians also pay more for broadband than most other countries in the OECD. We are fourth on the table for the most expensive low-speed connections and fifth in terms of medium-speed connections when it comes to the average monthly subscription costs. Australia needs to catch up and catch up fast. The Rudd government is committed to doing this. We are committed to ensuring that Australians see an improvement in broadband services regardless of where they live or work—that is, not only the financially well off.
Let me point out that the Rudd government is doing what the Howard government had almost 12 years to do but failed to. During their time in government the coalition had 18 failed broadband plans. Labor have been in government for less than two years and we have already succeeded where the Howard government could not. In the lead-up to the 2007 election the coalition were prepared to offer high-speed broadband to the people who lived in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. But they obviously forgot my home state of Tasmania completely—not even a whisper of a Tasmanian town was heard. They also forgot Canberra and Darwin. They forgot the people who live in regional Australia. They were treating us, the people who live in all those areas, as second-class citizens. We deserve better. We should be and need to be treated in the same way as the people in the big cities. The Rudd government will treat us as we deserve to be treated and I thank them for that.
Even now, the opposition wants to reinstate OPEL, and yet the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has determined that this network would only cover 72 per cent of the premises that have been identified as under-served. The Rudd government’s plan will cover more than 72 per cent; NBN should cover 98 per cent.
The Rudd government has strengthened the Australian Broadband Guarantee because it recognises the importance of telecommunications to people living in regional, rural and remote areas of the country. The Broadband Guarantee has been allocated $270.7 million over four years. The new guarantee commenced on 4 August and includes offering a higher level of service as well as a higher download cap. It offers higher incentive payment levels for remote and difficult service areas. Protection is also offered so that consumers who exceed their download caps are less likely to get higher bills.
The exciting construction work for the NBN began in July, with the digging of trenches to commence in October. The first homes will have fibre connections by December. It is expected that the first services will be available by July next year.
The Tasmania NBN Company Limited will operate the network for Tasmania. TNBN Co is a wholly-owned subsidiary of NBN Co. It will be jointly owned by Aurora Energy and the Tasmanian government once telecommunication assets are vended into the company. The board of TNBN Co consists of Mr Doug Campbell AM as Executive Chair, Ms Alison Terry, Mr Jody Fassina, Mr Greg McCann, Mr Mark Kelleher, Dr Daniel Norton and Mr Sean Woellner. The board members all have strong links to Tasmania and together have a wide range of skills and experience that will enable them to run a successful company. On his own, Mr Campbell has more than 40 years experience in telecommunications.
The government is putting $250 million into the rollout of fibre-optic backbone links to connect cities, major regional centres and rural towns. The government has identified Geraldton in WA; Darwin, Emerald and Longreach in Queensland; Broken Hill in NSW; Victor Harbour in SA; and Victoria’s south-west Gippsland regions as the priority areas for backbone infrastructure. A request for tender was released on 1 July and is currently being assessed by the DBCDE.
The NBN will be Australia’s first nationwide wholesale-only open-access network. It will foster genuine competition and consumer choice in the telecommunications industry. NBN will operate as a commercial entity at arms length from government and the government will protect NBN’s objective of a wholesale open and equivalent access network by establishing ownership controls. At present, the government is considering submissions in regard to the legislative framework of NBN Co. Once all submissions have been given due consideration the government will introduce proposed legislation to parliament.
A government review of the telecommunications regulations has also begun. Regulation reform is vital to the government’s plan to improve the telecommunications service offered to all Australians. The government is planning to introduce amendments to the legislative framework by the end of 2009. McKinsey and KPMG are conducting an implementation study that will consider a number of factors, including operating arrangements, ways to attract private sector investment and ways to procure opportunities for local businesses. The study will also give people the chance to share their views, ideas and expertise. A report on this study is due early next year.
Effective communication is vital to the way we live our lives, and technology is continually developing. High-speed broadband is necessary to keep our economy in the strong position it is in at present. The Rudd government has already taken decisive action and shown leadership at this critical point in time. Australia needs access to high-speed broadband. Australia needs to catch up to other nations. Australia is capable of becoming a world leader in broadband. This is why the Rudd government is committed to ensuring that all Australians, regardless of where they live and what they do for a living, will have access to broadband.
The Rudd government is working hard with the Tasmanian government to bring broadband to Tasmania. I am proud to be part of the Rudd government and of the working relationship it has with the Tasmanian government. As a Tasmanian I am excited to be part of this broadband rollout, especially as Tasmania is so often left behind the rest of the nation. Australia can move confidently into the remainder of the 21st century knowing that the Rudd government will lift this country from its middle to bottom ranking of OECD broadband statistics. Australia and its people deserve nothing less than that.