THE NBN in Tamworth could be as “dead as a dodo” amid fears the rollout will be scrapped before it even reaches the Country Music Capital.
Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office late yesterday suggested Tamworth would miss out on the game-changing project because construction of optic fibre – set to comence in the city this month – had not yet started.
It comes as newly-elected local MP Barnaby Joyce conceded the $92 billion project could not be delivered due to budget constraints.
The city is now in danger of becoming a technological second-class city to Armidale and, at best, would become a city of fast broadband “haves and have-nots”, with former member for New England Tony Windsor saying under previous arrangements, at least half of Tamworth should be guaranteed the infrastructure. While most areas in regional Australia will miss out, 300,000 premises are guaranteed the services under contracts signed by the former Labor government.
Mr Turnbull has called a review of the NBN project and directed NBN Co to continue rolling out fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections under existing contracts.
Under initial NBN plans, construction was to begin in Tamworth this month, but Mr Joyce admitted he was unaware of the timeline for Tamworth under the Coalition’s plan, and instead re-directed the question to the minister’s office. “Those contracts are in areas where the actual physical construction has started,” a spokesman for Mr Turnbull said.
“There are some areas where the design work has started, but whether or not it moves into construction is another matter.
“Given that the project is so far behind, that will be done on a case-by-case basis.”
Instead of delivered FTTP service to all homes under the NBN plan, the Coalition will focus on fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) delivery, resulting in slower speeds and less opportunities for data upload.
Mr Joyce said the Coalition plan would allow speeds of 40 megabits (MB), 50MB, 80MB and 100MB per second, depending on the distance from the node.
“Under the plan, the only thing we can’t get is high-definition video, but the only the way anything like that can happen is if the taxpayer is willing to foot the bill,” he said.
“The feedback from overseas is that people are generally not prepared to pay for a service that goes beyond the 100MB download service.”
Businesses and new subdivisions will be the only FTTP customers, which could potentially leave one side of Tamworth with the service and one side without.
“There will be FTTP for businesses if they’re willing to pay for it,” Mr Joyce said.
“New subdivisions will get FTTP because the big cost is the replacement cost.
“I don’t dodge the fact that with the FTTP you would get a better service if you were prepared to pay for it, but no one is buying the service at the higher level.
“There’s no doubt that a Maserati is vastly faster than a top-line Holden but if you can’t afford the Maserati – and our nation can’t – you wouldn’t go without a car, you’d just buy the Holden.”