ANNE HURLEY. Former Internet Australia directors support NSW Business Council call for a National Broadband Service Guarantee

Last year the NSW Business Chamber conducted a statewide survey of members. It has since called for changes it believes will help save business an average $9000 per year resulting from problems related to the NBN rollout. Four former directors of Internet Australia, the NFP peak body representing Internet users, have come out in support of the call for a National Broadband Service Guarantee.

Along with former chair, George Fong, former director Chris Winter and former executive director Laurie Patton this is something I supported back when we were all on the IA board.

As the then CEO and later executive director, Laurie proposed something very similar. We still think it’s the only way NBN customers can be confident they’ll get what they’ve paid for, frankly.

It’s not often we see an industry association pointing out so bluntly that the current NBN strategy is costing businesses real money and actually putting a number on it. This is highly significant and with the NSW Business Council taking the lead it would be encouraging to see other industry associations, especially those in the communications sector like Communications Alliance, that I once led, join in forcefully working for a better broadband network for the sake of our economic as well as our social development.

The NSW Business Chamber has written to members asking them to support its campaign by emailing their local MP “to voice your support for the NBN Broadband Service Guarantee and share the reality of how it has impacted your business” and to share an Infographic on social media platforms.

The Chamber’s call is for service standards where business customers may be entitled to compensation for failure to deliver to set standards, requirements to maintain management continuity when customers migrate to the NBN, dispute resolution and consultation procedures, and a compliance, performance and reporting regime managed by the ACCC and underpinned by enforcement provisions including civil penalties.

Since our departure from the IA board late last year we’ve been increasingly saddened by the continuing complaints levelled at NBN Co and its refusal to accept that its current model – relying on Telstra’s ageing copper wires and for some customers the old Foxtel pay-TV cables – is fundamentally incapable of delivering a decent broadband service to all Australians.

We believe Australia needs a bipartisan strategy for a future-proofed 21st Century NBN, and we point out that IA’s highly technically qualified members told the organisation overwhelmingly in a survey in 2016 they regarded the move to FTTN as flawed and did not believe the current model was sustainable in the long term.

Initially, the official IA policy favoured a return to a full-fibre fixed network. However, as this was not likely to happen any time soon, IA began calling for the adoption of fibre-to-the-driveway (aka FTTdp) as a plausible option. We noted that at least having fibre running past our premises provided the option for an upgrade to full-fibre in due course.

At the time IA proposed FTTdp neither the Government nor the Opposition had embraced this new technology. Since then NBN Co has begun moving to FTTdp, although more by stealth than with any admission FTTN is not working out as they had expected. However, this technology is only being used for a faction of the NBN customer base, leaving millions stuck with their inferior FTTN (old copper wire) version.

Laurie, supported by the IA board and its expert members, has previously argued that unless things change very soon whoever is in government in 2020 will have to deal with our “biggest ever national infrastructure debacle”.

Speaking back when he was still running IA Laurie noted that “NBN Co will owe the government circa $19 billion, which it’s having to borrow to complete the project and has no way of repaying any time soon. IA’s expert advisors, and others, maintain that within 5 to 10 years the FTTN sections of the network will need to be replaced. No-one seems to know how many billions of dollars this will cost. Meanwhile, millions of hapless customers are suffering slow and unreliable Internet services”.

We four former IA directors remain optimistic about Australia’s ability to perform in a digitally-enabled world, but we maintain we will be held back until the problems with the NBN are accepted and resolved. A National Broadband Service Guarantee would be a step in the right direction towards fixing the trouble-plagued project.

Anne Hurley is a former chair of Internet Australia, former CEO of Communications Alliance and is the owner of a global e-commerce business.

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