It is no longer a matter of politics. Thankfully, that time has passed. But it is time to think seriously about why a full-speed National Broadband Network is essential to each and every Queenslander.
As you can see from the 10 most desirable outcomes flagged earlier today at the Queensland Plan Summit, the need to develop and connect our regions with education, business opportunities, access to “fit for purpose” government, flexible education and long-term infrastructure all figured prominently.
While there is a sharp focus on bedding down the state’s 30-year plan, ensuring these important outcomes will take skill, planning, co-operation as well as a means to efficiently and effectively deliver services, information, education infrastructure across the coming decades.
And, while human beings will drive such change, telecommunications infrastructure is the most likely backbone to help them achieve positive outcomes in each of these areas in the shortest possible timeframes.
A full-speed NBN will be able to readily and reliably disseminate business, education, training and emergency information. It will allow easy, uninterrupted connections between regions.
And it will do this without being subject to the vagaries of a copper wire connection between a node and its eventual destination, whether that be a community centre, a school, a block of units or a homestead,.
This is Queensland. It rains here, sometimes for days on end, and occasionally in one-day downfalls that can exceed annual totals in other states.
When and where it doesn’t rain, there’s often serious damage to copper-based telephony from other sources, including heatwave conditions, cyclonic winds, lightning, animals and even voracious insects.
Such irregular but not infrequent damage already compromises line quality and transmission of even small data packets. Those who already have an ADSL2 connection – even in and around Brisbane – can attest to annoying breaks of service that can span days, even weeks, after an unplanned outage.
Often properties in the outback, even those “in town”, are still reliant on a questionable telephony system that sees privately erected (and funded) copper wires crudely strung from their property boundaries to their homes. For them, a satellite option may well be the most cost-effective solution but it will still be subject to bad weather.
A system reliant on even a portion of copper wire connectivity simply will not support the concurrent load that our desired levels of information transfer and telecommunication will demand. If we are to even go close to meeting one of the above outcomes, it certainly cannot guarantee reliability, speed or quality of service, either to the city or to the regions.
Such a second-class, fibre-to-the-node NBN will neither support home-based and small businesses, nor those who live and work further afield in regional and remote areas, many of whom may not yet even have an ADSL2 level of service.
And this cheaper-now option will also push much greater additional expenses on to others later.
Firstly, this would be thrust on to homeowners, small businesses and anyone with the means to pay to upgrade their links to the node to ensure a reliable service.
Secondly, when the copper network fails to meet user demand – or simply wears out – a future federal government may find itself needing to upgrade any terminating copper wire connections. Then we would all pay much more just to see those smaller, individual copper cable runs upgraded, when the opportunity cost to do it now would be far lower. Anyone who paid to upgrade their node-to-premises connection will pay twice.
One of the issues causing friction in our state on a number of fronts is the “us” and “them” mentality between our city and country cousins.
A decision to go ahead with a second-class NBN for the remainder of the nation’s rollout only threatens to drive a further divide between the few “haves” and the majority of “have nots” who are yet to be connected.
Queenslanders need to let our governments know that this is not acceptable.
Every area of our state’s economy – from tourism and agriculture, mining to financial services, health, medical and community services, education and training, policing and policy-making – would flourish if our interconnectedness could be optimised.
Because of the tyranny of distance in the nation’s second-largest state, the fastest way to do this is with a full-speed NBN.
Words: Trina McLellan (who once worked as a communication consultant in the 1980s with Telecom Australia in Victoria before it became Telstra. She has no current connection to the industry.)