NBN Co suspends Tasmanian satellite rollout amid political brawl


news The NBN company has called a halt to its controversial plans to deploy satellite access to a number of towns on the west coast of Tasmania until the various sides of politics resolve what the company sees as a funding black hole for the region.

Residents of areas such as Queenstown in Western Tasmania were previously scheduled to have received a full Fibre to the Premises rollout as part of the previous Labor Government’s original NBN plan.

However, under the Coalition’s revised Multi-Technology Mix approach to the NBN, they will instead only receive satellite broadband, with the NBN company not planning to deploy any fixed broadband infrastructure to some areas of the state, despite the fact that townships such as Queenstown already have ADSL broadband over Telstra’s copper network, and several thousand local residents.

Residents and business groups in the region have bitterly complained about the issue to their local MP, Whitely, demanding better broadband.

Several weeks ago Labor promised to deliver Fibre to the Premises to three towns in the area — Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan — if it won the upcoming Federal Election — as well as fixed wireless to a fourth, Strahan.

And, with the issue being a key one to secure his re-election, Whitely has publicly stated that he, too, is working with the Federal and State Governments to secure a plan for funding for better broadband in the area, although the Liberal MP has not yet disclosed what that plan might be.

Speaking at a Senate Estimates hearing last week, NBN chief Bill Morrow said the situation was in flux.

“At the moment, we understand that there is a great deal of effort by all government parties to see if a solution cannot be found to overcome the added cost of building fibre out to Queenstown, to give that area a fixed-line solution rather than a satellite solution,” Morrow told Tasmanian Labor Senator Anne Urquhart.

“We have been able to give them … the estimated cost, which is between $15 million and $20 million, to build that fibre out to those areas and also have the reliability necessary to keep the service up and working when faults do occur.”

“As we understand it, people are very optimistic about finding a solution, and, as a result of that, we have suspended the satellite service in that area with the hope that people will be able to come forward with the money so we can build them the network that I think you have been representing and advocating.”

Morrow said that he was told that “a lot of discussions are taking place” about the region’s future, but that he did not have any further information on the timing for any funding announcement.

In response to Labor’s election pledge for the Tasmanian towns concerned, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has previously intimated that the Federal Government would not chip in to assist the region specifically. Fifield said that in North West Tasmania, local calls for fixed line broadband were “already being considered through NBN’s existing Technology Choice policy”.

“The significant difference between the Technology Choice option and the promise made by Labor today is that it is unfunded. NBN does not have a spare $29 million available to fund Labor’s empty election promises,” the Minister said.

“Labor must to come clean on which other towns will be disadvantaged by this intervention in Tasmania.Labor also needs to clarify if this promise involves the use of Fibre to the Premises, which in Tasmania, has been mired in lengthy construction delays and rollout challenges.”

However, the Technology Choice program has so far proven relatively unsuccessful, with only three successful implementations by the NBN company, despite hundreds of applications nationally.

Image credit: Office of Brett Whiteley


  1. Mr.Whiteley was on his knee’s to Turnbull pleading to change his NBN plan for his electorate so he can keep his job?

    • +1

      I was wondering which other “controversial” NBN sites will be resolved in the lead up to the Election.

      How are these announcements not political, at worst and convenient, at best, in nature?

  2. The fact that this argument is even taking place just shows how far off the “national infrastructure” rails the LNP have dragged the NBN. We need a royal commission to show the voters just how badly the Libs have screwed it up, the level of fraud in their “reports/reviews” and who the prime beneficiaries have been!

  3. The west coast of Tasmania is an area which, if you have a job which you can do remotely, is full of amazing scenery and would be a great place for those who love the small-town, outdoor lifestyle. It is isolated even by Tasmanian standards. Given the decline in employment (due to mine closures, etc), you would think it would be a prime opportunity for the area to re-invent itself as a “sea-change” destination for online workers.

    As for Brett Whiteley, well, he is a nobody who follows whatever Abbott said (and still does).

    • Yes, the west coast is trying to re-invent. When you can get a good house for less than $100,000 there are sure to be people willing to move for the wet ‘n wild lifestyle if they had decent connectivity.

      Btw, another peculiarity is a wind farm. Has had funding and permissions for 2 years, waiting to build but the electricity company won’t sign agreement to purchase power so they wait, and wait, and wait.

  4. The Tasmanian rollout started in 2009 so how can this still be an issue? If I’m reading the docs right 220,000 premises needed to be serviced. Forget about the technology used. How the fuck can it take more than 6 years to provide broadband to 220,000 premises? Sheesh.

    • The Tasmanian rollout virtually stopped after 2013 election. Anything connected since has been on a slow as you can go basis.

      Btw, the first Tasmanian connections were in second half 2010.

      • The oldest weekly progress numbers available (week ending 1 December 2013) show TAS had 27,937 serviceable FTTP brownfield, 8,508 activated. The latest numbers (week ending 28 April 2016) are 104,044 serviceable, 57,542 activated.

        I’m surprised to read such numbers described as “virtually stopped”.

        @BT I agree NBNCo performance is at best comical (not just TAS).

        • Do we know how many of that 104,044 number are FttP?

          Heres the thing thats a problem for a lot of us. Maybe not you, dont need to care. There was implicit agreement to have Tasmania finished as FttP, amongst other areas. As soon as the Liberals got into power, that implicit promise/guarantee was dropped.

          So either they fibbed a little, which is bad enough, or stopped any extra rollout of FttP, as they did elsewhere, meaning any FttP in the state is thanks to the pre Sep 2013 processes.

          That comes down to how many of that 104,044 number is FttP. Any that arent you can thank the Liberals for without question. Any that are FttP, it depends on your political bias and how blinkered someone is on the day.

          The NBN rollout is comical at best, but its gotten worse under Turnbull and Fifield.

          • Little delayed asterix on what I said. Any that arent part of that 104,044 may include NBN satellite connections, which could be part of the pre-Sep 2013 rollout. Wasnt really the main point, just commenting in case Richard decides to nitpick.

            My question is specifically regarding fixed line capable Taswegians. Any fixed line that arent FttP are thanks to the Liberals, any that are you can thank the residual efforts of Labor before the Liberals stopped FttP.

    • Because at a change of government, the incoming powers decided that rural Tasmania didnt need to be part of the 21st century after all. So then spent 2 years figuring out how to leave them in the 90’s.

  5. I guess at the end of the day it comes down to cost. If it is cheaper to give others in a different area a connection other then satellite, why should these people in Tasmania get precedence and special dispensation? What is so special about them? They are in a remote area, they cannot expect services they get in Sydney.

    • Because while NBN is expected to operate as a viable business, there’s still certain public interest obligations they should be abiding by as a state-owned natural monopoly.

      Towns of over 1,000 population were never intended to be stuck on satellite (or fixed wireless for that matter) and ditching FTTP shouldn’t really change that as it’s still the “fixed-line” rollout.

      The satellite service was designed to service that last 3% of the population and not a person more. But NBN is clearly moving 1,000+ towns out of fixed-line onto satellite, which is a significant number of users in that context.

    • One of the key aspects of the NBN was to give rural areas an equal connection. Every generation of technology, the same areas get overbuilt, and the same areas get left til last.

      There are economic reasons for doing so, and you cant really blame the telco’s for rolling out the way they do, but this was the chance to address that and have them catch up. Given how relatively small Tasmania is as a market, it was a good idea to simply give everyone practical FttP, just to get it done.

      What is so special is that they were a juicy political fruit in this game, because of how segregated a market they are. There are other areas that have also benefited from that isolated market mentality.

      Its not always about catering to the biggest markets, they already have pretty good services to start with. Sometimes you need to look after the smaller guys as well. But sadly the Whats In It For Me mentality of far too many people dont seem to care that other places need these services as well, just that they get it first.

      • Thanks for that Gav, I just replied to Frank (we have a history) in less eloquent terms… but I concur with you fully…


        • All good. Coming from Wollongong, we get stuck with both ends of the argument. If there is a rural policy in play, we’re often considered part of Sydney, if there’s an urban policy in play, we’re rural.

          In the end, generally getting left behind, much like a lot of isolated areas even though we are on Sydney’s doorstep. Fortunately, we’re one of those easily isolated regions that Labor gave FttP to (and most of the area got it), so for once we got something out of a major policy. Political reasons mostly, but made at a time our industry was closing down and we needed the boost.

          It would have been nice if rural Tasmania had gotten it as well. Will be interesting over the next decade or so to see what tech growth happens here.

    • “They are in a remote area, they cannot expect services they get in Sydney.”
      They can expect that the government will not break their election promises.

    • Yes thanks “yet again” Frank…

      We got it the first 50 times… if it’s not not 100% FTTP you say fuck everyone else…let them eat cake.

      Of course factoring that a fibre run of 10km throughout suburbia would service 1000’s or a fibre run of possibly 100’s of km’s to Mr and Mrs Frank would service two or three is of no significance…

      This is why I favoured the previous FttP/wirelss/satellite model with the city subsidising the bush… but hey it’s all about Frank who demands FTTP or FTTP for no one…go Frank…FFS

  6. If the Coalition win the election it will be business as usual without any changes and these poor bastards will end up with satellite.
    I mean, who would you vote for, a party who says you are getting satellite before the election is announced or a party who says before and after an election is announced that you will get fibre.
    Satellite, fibre, satellite, fibre………………………………….mmmmmmmmmmmm

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