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Speech on the NBN

On Thursday 8 September 2022, I made a speech in Federal Parliament about the poor NBN in Ryan. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.

E WATSON-BROWN: During my election campaign and in the months since the election, numerous residents in the seat of Ryan have reached out to me with their problems with getting decent broadband internet to their home. I spoke to some residents recently who, while paying for 140 Mbps speeds, are likely to get 30 to 60 Mbps and they experience repeated dropouts of five or more minutes every single day. I have spoken to locals in Ryan from Kenmore, Kenmore Hills and Chapel Hill who are working from home as software developers and as researchers. We have locals trying to run small businesses out of their home. They all rely on this crucial infrastructure for their livelihood and to contribute to our society and economy. But they are struggling because, when the NBN was rolled out, it was delivered as fibre to the node not to the premises. Data travels rapidly along good quality broadband infrastructure until it reaches a node, say 100 metres from someone's house, after which it hits ancient and slow copper infrastructure that basically renders the new infrastructure useless.

Upgrades to the premises are taking place around the country; yet places like Kenmore Hills aren't on the list, and locals want to know why. When locals have asked NBN Co if they could have this upgrade done, they were told that they would have to pay $14,000, at a minimum, each. The electorate of Ryan needs a comprehensive rollout of the upgrade to FTTP, and they need it now, and it shouldn't come out of the pockets of everyday locals. I think it's a national disgrace that we have such abysmal internet and that we treat our citizens, who simply want the basics they need to operate in the modern world, like they are asking for some kind of luxury good. New Zealand has better internet speeds than Australia, as does China, India and Kazakhstan. So how is it that we in Australia, one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita, have some of the worst internet going around?

We all remember how the Liberals under Malcom Turnbull torpedoed the NBN when they ripped up the original plan of delivering fibre to the premises and replaced it with the significantly inferior fibre-to-the-node model—and now we're paying the price. But the problem runs deeper than that. When Labor initiated NBN Co, they tried to move the expenditure for it off the government's books. So they set it up as an independent commercial entity with a corporate structure ready for privatisation that had to partially finance itself through borrowing on the private markets. This led NBN Co to become a particularly profit-hungry entity, having to begin generating significant revenue well before it even finished its initial rollout.

NBN CEO, Stephen Rue, makes $3 million a year and the chairman of the NBN board is the previous CEO of Telstra. It sounds a bit like a corporation to me. And that is what people in Ryan have told—that interacting with NBN Co feels like interacting with the most opaque and inhuman private corporation. If you wanted to look back further, you could say that the privatisation of Telstra that was prepared by Labor under Keating and completed under Howard laid the foundation for this terrible mess. If Telstra had remained a genuine public entity, we could have rolled out high-quality broadband through Telstra in a planned way where no-one was left behind and nothing was done on the cheap.

That is the past, though. How do we fix this tangled web of telecommunications errors now? Firstly, we need an immediate speed-up of the NBN fibre-to-the-premises upgrade, with more investment and a commitment to total coverage. Suburbs in my electorate like Kenmore Hills need to be put on the rollout plan and they need to be given a clear time frame. Secondly, we need to do away with the idea that the corporate model is the best vehicle for delivering key infrastructure. While, the government have said that they have shelved the idea of privatising the NBN for now, it is little comfort when NBN Co acts like a giant company already. I think key infrastructure like telecommunications needs to be in public hands and not run for profit. It needs to be properly funded and democratically accountable.

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