Ask LH: What’s Going On With The NBN In Rural Areas?

G’day Lifehacker, What’s going on with the National Broadband Network (NBN) in rural areas. My wife and I are planning to downsize and live the “River Cottage” life in country NSW, and I’m me worried about internet access.

Farm picture from Shutterstock

What are my options for rural connections out of town (with limited Telstra 3G service)? What’s happening with NBN satellite and wireless options? Any advice appreciated. Thanks, Wannabe Farmer

Dear WF,

We’re all still waiting to see what exactly will happen with the NBN. The strategic review competed late last year provides for a rollout that is supposed to be completed by 2019, but we don’t have any detail on rollout plans or what technologies will be used. That’s true whether you’re in a rural area or a big city. For now, it’s a matter of waiting until the full NBN Corporate Plan is updated (which should happen in the first half of the year, but could be delayed because of Telstra contract renegotiations). What we do know is not very reassuring.

The interim NBN Satellite service designed for extremely remote areas has become a victim of its own success. Last year iiNet stopped selling satellite connections because the performance had become too slow, and now NBN Co is not accepting any new sign-ups for the service at all, as its site makes clear:

Capacity has been reached on the Interim Satellite Service and it is not possible to register for, or order, a new service. Registrations for services over the Interim Satellite Service have now closed and no further registrations can be accepted.

The permanent satellite (which will offer higher speeds) is scheduled to roll out in 2015, but there’s always the chance that will change once the revised NBN rollout plan is made public. (The satellite service is designed to serve areas with minimal choices, and it seems unlikely that this would be cancelled given the emphasis on that aspect in Coalition policy, but we don’t know for sure.)

So what can you do? Unfortunately, right now your only option is to see if a basic ADSL or ADSL2 service is available at the address you want to retire to. If it isn’t, you can pay for a commercial satellite service, but that won’t be cheap and it won’t be fast, or rely on the limited 3G service available.

It’s also worth checking whether you can get better 3G or 4G service from Optus or Vodafone in your chosen location. I was in a rural location over the Christmas break, and found that Optus was far more reliable than Telstra in that particular spot.


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