NBN representatives said that new fixed wireless connections would cost $20 more than existing connections on Wednesday. Less than 24 hours later the disparity was dismissed as a consultation issue after significant political backlash.
NBN Co has just confirmed in a committee in Parliament new customers on fixed wireless will attract a $65 wholesale charge for a service that costs $45 in cities. Confirms my story from June: https://t.co/1fswwP9lO1 #auspol
— Jackson Gothe-Snape (@jacksongs) August 15, 2018
At a Joint Standing Committee of Parliament on Wednesday, representatives from NBN announced that new 50Mbps fixed wireless connections would have a $65 per month wholesale cost. These fixed wireless connections - which are overwhelming used by regional Australians - currently wholesale for $45 per month, the same price as fixed line connections.
50Mbps connections are becoming the new standard while frequent upgrades to the wireless network have driven up costs as the NBN struggles to deal with congestion issues.
Several members of the Labor party used Question Time to attack the government for the proposed price increase.
"Why should businesses and households in towns on the west coast of Tasmania be treated as second-class citizens under this Liberal government, with one rule for Point Piper and another for those living in regional Australia?" said Justine Keay, member for Braddon.
"Because of his failures, the Prime Minister now wants regional Australians to pay $20 more per month than he would have to pay in Point Piper for the same service. It’s just not fair," said Stephen Jones, Shadow Minister for Regional Communication.
In late 2017 I signed a thirty year mortgage on a house in Melbourne's northern suburbs, in an area due to be connected to the NBN in "early 2018". With the ink barely dry on the contract, NBN Co announced it was halting all planned rollouts until further notice. Cable was not available in the area, so I assumed my only option was ADSL.
Backlash surrounding the proposed price changes prompted Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communications, to issue a statement saying that changes to fixed wireless pricing will not occur.
Bill Morrow, NBN Co CEO, confirmed the changes were not going ahead.
Bill Morrow just announced on the results call he's abandoned plans for the $65 NBN fixed wireless pricing change. "Consider the $65 price... off the table. It's a consultation, not a decision." #auspol #nbn
— Jackson Gothe-Snape (@jacksongs) August 16, 2018
In a blog post from July, Morrow said, "At NBN Co, we are driven by a simple purpose: to bring broadband connectivity to the nation and help bridge the digital divide between young and old, city and country, Australia and the rest of the world."
Even considering charging regional customers more than urban or suburban customers betrays that purpose.
Servicing regional Australians is a challenge. We live in a wide, brown land so the NBN has to cover a large, sparsely populated area. That's why solutions like fixed wireless exist - although it is increasingly being used in non-regional areas.
There will always be a cost associated with that challenge but that is why NBN Co was established as a government project instead of a profit-driven private enterprise. The only way to ensure city and country alike receive affordable internet is to guarantee the same pricing for all Australians and spread the costs of running it across an entire nation.
Otherwise the bush get left behind as companies chase the profits from high-density areas.
It appears that a number of suburbs that were destined to received fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) National Broadband Network (NBN) connections will be getting fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) and fixed wireless services instead, according to a report by iTNews.
If the NBN truly exists to shrink the digital divide then it should not have taken political pressure to ensure that all Australians - not just the profitable ones - have access to affordable internet.