I rise today to highlight the plight of a group of my constituents in relation to access to broadband internet access. Now, the one thing that everyone in this chamber can agree on is that fast, reliable and affordable broadband is absolutely essential for businesses and for households. No question about it: being unable to access the internet via broadband means being cut from a whole range of opportunities.
We on this side of the House differ from the government on how best to deliver fast, reliable and, most importantly, affordable broadband. The government, in typical fashion, had a thought-bubble, back-of-the-envelope moment during a plane trip and cobbled together the NBN.
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy must surely be the king of flimsy, illconsidered policies, as we have witnessed again this past week with his media control thought-bubble. He is a shining example of the incompetency that has personified this government.
There simply is not time in the few minutes I have to debate all the faults and flaws that are already apparent in the NBN, but to summarise: aside from the massive cost blow-outs, NBN Co. has not met its own reviseddown construction time frames; the take up-rate so far is well below what is required to meet its own corporate plan targets; 65 per cent of the touted customer take-up by premises passed by the network have been on the NBN interim satellite plan, not fibre-to-the-home; and the satellite service does not come close to the speeds promised under the NBN, and falls way short of the speed most people already enjoy under ADSL or even with wireless access. There have been changes in the definition of 'premises passed', to boost the numbers. In short, the NBN, like so many other government policies, has proved to be a big, costly disappointment.
Then last month we had the bizarre spectacle of NBN Co. CEO Michael Quigley proposing an inquiry into alternative technologies be carried out by the communications alliance. So, four years down the track, we need an inquiry to see if there might be better options. Surely this government cannot be serious. The fact that only 10 per cent of households who can access the NBN have decided to do so speaks volumes about the government's failure to assess the needs of average Australians or to understand that affordability is also a key issue. But perhaps what is most infuriating about the slow rollout of the NBN behemoth is that it is becoming increasingly clear that upgrades to existing exchanges would have happened by now without the NBN. These upgrades have actually been put on hold, denying people access to decent ADSL broadband right now. That is certainly the case for a group of residents in Greenbank in my electorate.
Now, while my electorate has a lot of rural townships, I have to stress that Greenbank is neither rural nor remote. The houses in question are suburban in nature, about 30 minutes from the heart of Brisbane city and are still unable to access broadband except by a currently unreliable wireless services or satellite services. The bottom line is that Telstra will not upgrade the local exchange to allow residents to access ADSL as they are holding off for the NBN roll out. And yet, even worse, this section of Greenbank does not even appear to be on the radar for the NBN. So it seems this group of residents is in a forgotten pocket— one of many I might add throughout the region.
The fact that the government keeps trumpeting the NBN as some broadband saviour for everyone who currently has patchy access is just cruelly raising expectations. The people in this section of Greenbank would just love ADSL access, which could be achieved through exchange upgrades for a fraction of the price of rolling out the NBN. They wait in hope of some action.
I will continue to fight for a better deal for this group and I am glad that the coalition's shadow parliamentary secretary for communications has agreed to come up and meet with this group next month at the extension of my invitation. I am hopeful that, with our much more affordable and practical plan to deliver affordable broadband, the coalition will be able to offer real hope of a decent broadband service for this group of people in Greenbank who have been left behind by the communications policies of this government.