Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017, Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017
Posted on Wednesday, 9 May, 2018
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (16:14): I do not support the amendment but I do support the original motion. I'd like to use this as a bit of an opportunity to talk about the NBN rollout, where it is in my electorate at the moment and why we need this legislation. The NBN rollout in Grey is 98 per cent complete. That's a fantastic number. I'm looking forward to it being 100 per cent, but 98 per cent is a very good number. It's no secret that the NBN is not the NBN that the Prime Minister, when he was telecommunications minister, would have liked to roll out or one that he designed. But he was left a legacy—a legacy that was in shreds. In fact, he resurrected the NBN as it stood when we came to government in 2013.
To refresh the memory, in South Australia and Western Australia, the lead contractor had collapsed and virtually no work had been done. A few streets had been ripped up, and that was it. The contractor had disappeared. So it was in pretty bad form. From the outset, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the then Minister of Communications, said that the NBN would concentrate first on those areas that had the worst service. Naturally, those areas were in the country. And so it is, notwithstanding the fact that those country areas are the least lucrative for the NBN because of the subscriber numbers and the distances involved. As it stands at the moment, rural Australia is two-thirds enabled and metropolitan Australia is only one-third enabled for the NBN. Well done to him and well done to the ministers since that time who have achieved that outcome.
As I said, the NBN rollout in Grey is 98 per cent complete. All the fixed wire componentry in Grey is complete, and we just have a few fixed wirelesses to go, progressively over the next 18 months. The satellite, following some early teething problems, is going very well indeed. In fact, my office has not had a complaint about satellite services since November. In that time, around October or November last year, we actually doubled the size of the packages available to those on the satellite services and increased the peak data periods by about 35 per cent—all at no extra cost to the consumers. So there have been some really good outcomes. We've got a good service, and it's providing good sized packages now to businesses and individuals.
Almost all of the complaints we receive now about the NBN are concerned with transference issues. Many people have issues like the provider not arriving at the designated time to complete the hook-up and the customer has taken the day off work to wait for the provider to arrive—but even those are becoming less—or the phone not working after the transfer is completed. Rarely, if ever, are they issues that are actually to do with the NBN directly; they're more to do with the providers. But these are one-off complaints, and I'm informed that, once the shutdown of the copper network is complete, the technical matters of co-existence will be removed and speeds are expected to increase on the fixed wire network.
So it's a good news story. It's a very good news story, and inherent in the delivery is that the country gets a quality service, a comparable service to the metropolitan areas—an equitable service. That requires cross-subsidisation from the city consumers.
This legislation quantifies and commits to funding that cross-subsidisation. Specifically, the undervalue of the rural network—that is, the net liability—has been analysed, and the figure arrived at is $9.8 billion. In fact, this is the actual subsidy to the rural areas—as it should be. I make no bones about this. Rural people and regional businesses need the same type of access to high-speed broadband as those who live in the cities. In turn, that $9.8 billion, that annual contribution required from all customers to meet the cost of amortising this through to 2040, is $7.09 per service across the whole NBN, or across the whole fast broadband service network, for every customer that is connected. It's important that our city cousins understand the need for this fee. It's all about equality. Telecommunications is seen, quite rightly I think, as an essential service. It's a bit like water. We expect our water to be provided for the same price in the country as it costs in the city. This is one of those essential services, and it's important that we receive a comparable package right across Australia.
It is also important that those in the country realise they are included as equal citizens of this nation and recognise the contribution the rest of the community quite rightly makes to ensure their equality in terms of telecommunications. However, for clarification on that, I might just return to the satellite service for a moment. The satellite service has cost the NBN a little over $2 billion. It's a lot of money. The decision to launch those satellites was made by the previous Labor government, and I would say that, of the entire NBN debacle they left us with, that was the finest decision they made. The launching of the two new dedicated satellites has provided that service to regional Australia, and it would not otherwise be possible. I thank Labor for that; it was a good call.
It is estimated that that satellite service will eventually have 200,000 users. That works out at about $7,900 per connection. That's a lot of money. It's very expensive, but it has to be done to provide that equality. And it has to be done with satellite because the alternatives would be much more expensive. I would just ask those in my electorate who feel a little jaded that they haven't received, for instance, a fixed wire service, to remember that the satellite service cost close to $8,000 a connection and the rest of Australia is paying for it—quite rightly. In light of this debate, it's important that we in the country understand those numbers and own up to how we benefit from that contribution and commitment from across the rest of Australia to ensure that we get that equality.
However, not every user of the fast broadband internet will use the NBN. There are some alternative services which will be operating in the city, primarily around the co-ax cable networks that exist already. If they don't pay the $7.09 per month per connection, that gives them an unfair advantage over the NBN. That is not right or proper, so this legislation will make sure those services are swept up into making that payment as well and ensures that, as an article of faith, they will compete with the NBN on an equal footing. It's a community obligation, and this legislation ensures that all people, all connections, will pay that $7.09 a month. I think it's a tidy way of dealing with the issues at hand.
I'm really pleased with the way the NBN rollout has gone in my electorate. I think I'm close to 18 months from seeing the completion of those final wireless networks—including in my home town. By and large, we have a great service out there now. There are still a lot of people to connect up. Around 50 per cent have connected to the fixed wireless network, and fewer have connected to the wireless networks. But the services are good and I think it's just a matter of time. Certainly, in the fibre-to-the-node networks, there is a final date when service will cease on the copper network. As I said, it's expected that the speeds in the network will increase. But service to the copper network will cease, so people will have an automatic transference at that stage. There are bound to be a few complaints raised again when people are staring down the barrel of a definite date. But these things need to be done. It's a good project that is providing good services, and I'm very pleased with how it's gone in my electorate. The legislation today is an essential part of ensuring its financial viability.