Rural communities fear ‘data drought’ despite launch of NBN satellite Sky Muster

ABC News

Frustrated rural internet customers fear it could be 18 months before their substandard services are improved by the National Broadband Network (NBN Co) satellite Sky Muster.

The new half-a-billion-dollar satellite was launched this week, but due to months of testing will not be commercially available until mid-2016. Central Queensland farmer Kristy Sparrow said the bush cannot wait that long. Ms Sparrow has called on NBN Co to do more to improve speeds and lift data limits for those struggling with the congested interim satellite service (ISS), which Sky Muster will replace.

To address the congestion on the oversold system NBN Co introduced a fair use policy at the start of the year. All ISS users had their data plans cut.

Megan Munchenberg from Gregory Downs station in far north Queensland has seen the impact on her two children, who study by school of the air.

Alex Appleton doing distance education from schoolroom on Islay Plains Station, Alpha Queensland.

Alex Appleton doing distance education from schoolroom on Islay Plains Station, Alpha Queensland.

In March the station schoolroom’s 100 gigabyte plan was halved to 50 gigabytes, then three months later reduced to 45 gigabytes.

“Each child by standard has been recommended that they need 20 gigabytes month each. Currently we have 20 gigabytes for five children,” she said.

Despite rationing, the schoolroom cannot make it through the month, and their internet is “shaped”, or drastically slowed. “It’s pretty much just turn the computer off and walk away because the ability to do anything is impossible,” Ms Munchenberg said.

NBN Co’s general manager for fixed wireless and satellite, Gavin Williams, said he does not like to hear stories of hardship caused by the ISS.

“It’s incredibly humbling when you hear the real world impacts of individuals in the bush just trying to do things that people in the city just take for granted,” he said.

“When you can’t do a banking transaction because it times out, that a kid has to get up at 5:00am to do a lesson, they’re heartbreaking stories.”

Ms Sparrow said there is an information drought about the new long-term satellite service (LSS) and called on NBN Co to provide more information.

“How much are these families going to be able to access? What data limits? What costs? How long is it going to take to service every family?” she said.

“It’s a digital world and there’s a digital divide. The interim satellite at least deserves to be fixed until then.”

Read more.

Bush telecommunications needs help with more reforms

The Australian, 3 September 2015.

Vodafone Australia chief Inaki Berroeta.

Vodafone Australia chief Inaki Berroeta.

Recently I drove to Armidale in country NSW to open a new ­Vodafone retail store with the local federal MP and Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce. During the drive I had cause to reflect on the potential for improved mobile telecommunications in regional Australia.

Vodafone will soon be building more than 18 mobile base stations in the region around Armidale, dramatically improving our ­mobile coverage by an extra 2000sq km. This will deliver better mobile coverage and more employment opportunities in the community while giving more choice and competition to local consumers and businesses.

This would not have been possible without the government’s mobile black spot program and the support of the NSW government, which fund not only improvements in mobile coverage but also competition in regional and remote areas where it is severely lacking. The combination of subsidised construction of mobile stations with a requirement on industry to work together to share infrastructure is a major step forward for which both governments deserve significant credit.

Our geography and low population density means there are major challenges in ensuring regional and remote Australians can benefit from a choice of fixed and mobile telco providers.

Many Australian taxpayers would be surprised to learn that over the past decade Telstra has received more than one billion of their dollars to maintain and ­extend its network. There would be a huge outcry if a major supermarket chain received such substantial amounts of taxpayer funds to maintain its market dominance, but such a huge handout to the incumbent telco has gone largely unquestioned.

Further, Telstra charges monopoly prices for other operators to access its fixed transmission links, many of which were built when Telstra was a government-owned monopoly. To build mobile base stations, carriers need to connect to these fixed transmission links to take the voice and data traffic to the rest of the world. But there are some shoots of green; the policy environment is changing. The NBN rollout and the mobile black spot program are solutions

Australia will not achieve its potential, or lift its long-term economic and social wellbeing to its highest level without access to modern telecommunications services at affordable prices.

These are exciting opportunities and we look forward to ­continuing to work with government, industry and consumers to maximise the benefits of more competition and choice in telecommunications for regional and remote Australia.

Inaki Berroeta is the chief executive of Vodafone Australia.

View the full article here.