Thank you, Mr Speaker. It’s a pleasure to introduce the Faster Internet for Regional Australia Bill to the Parliament.
The purpose of this bill is simple: to ensure all regional Australians have access to fast, high-quality, and reliable internet at the same standard our city cousins enjoy.
This should be a simple principle that we can all get behind in this place, but unfortunately, to date it is not.
Everywhere I travel in Indi, constituents tell me about their challenges with phone coverage and internet connection.
Two weeks ago in Violet Town, I met with small business owners who’ve had to turn away customers because their EFTPOS machines can’t connect to wireless broadband signals.
In Wangaratta, I speak to young families fighting slow home internet speeds everyday just because mum and dad are trying to work from home while the kids do remote learning.
In Wodonga, I hear about the tree changers who’ve had to wait months to get connected to the NBN when they’re used to same day connections for utilities down in Melbourne.
And in bushfire-prone communities in the Upper Murray like Corryong and Walwa, or down around Marysville, I hear from residents who are fearful of phone, power and internet lines going down in an emergency again, leaving them stranded to fend for themselves.
Mr Speaker, it doesn’t matter whether you live in Brighton or Benalla, or Woolloomooloo or Wodonga, access to fast, high-quality, and reliable internet should be the same all across the nation.
If passed, this bill would establish ambitious standards that NBN and other companies who own and operate broadband infrastructure must meet or face financial penalties.
Right now, the government wants to give NBN a free pass when it comes to the quality of service it delivers to the regions.
In terms of internet speeds for example, the government has said NBN only needs to deliver superfast download speeds of 25 megabits per second once a day.
Once per day! It could be 2am, or 2pm. For five minutes, or five seconds. That’s how low the government is setting the bar for the NBN, and that’s not good enough for me, and it sure as heck isn’t good enough for my constituents.
25 megabits per second supports up to 5 devices, be it an iPhone or an iPad. If one person is streaming iView in HD on one device, speeds will be snail pace on other devices.
Heck, we’ve all been there. If mum and dad are streaming the news in the living room, it’ll take longer for the kids to finish their homework in the study. Or if a café manager is in the back office talking on zoom to its coffee bean supplier, the EFTPOS machine out the front will keep dropping out.
That’s just not good enough from this government.
Under my bill, NBN will have to serve up a minimum of 25 megabits per second at all times of the day, on average.
Just last week, a constituent of mine in Taggerty told me how she sends her work emails after hours because the network is just too slow during the day. Now that’s simply absurd in our modern age, and it’s hurting our regional economies.
This bill also establishes minimum wait times for new NBN connections and fault rectifications in the regions.
And this government wants to give NBN a free pass on this too.
Right now, the government wants to let NBN take up to 19 business day – essentially a whole calendar month – to connect some new homes or small businesses in the regions, even if it’s close to a fixed line facility.
All small business owners know the first 12 months of a new local start up are the hardest. A month delay in connection to the NBN is the last thing an accounting business relying on cloud based software or a beauty salon setting up a new online booking system needs when it’s getting up and running.
Mr Deputy Speaker, in the cities, most new connections are same day and if it needs to be connected to a fixed line facility it can usually be done within a few days. We deserve the same in the regions.
And the same goes for fixing network dropouts.
The government wants to mandate a one day wait time for network faults to be rectified in the cities, but up to three days in the regions and remote areas. The impact of a 72 hour outage on a small business balance sheet is immense. You’d think the government could see that and would act on it.
People are usually shocked to learn that no internet standards like those I’ve proposed in this bill exist right now.
All we have is a general expectation that these companies, including NBN, will be incentivised to build and maintain high-quality broadband infrastructure on the basis that it makes solid and sustainable commercial sense.
What this means is that in regional electorates like mine where there is no competition, there is no incentive for NBN to continue providing a high level of service over time as the Government moves to privatise NBN.
If we don’t introduce a bill like this, regional Australians will simply have to ‘get what they’re given’ when it comes to internet speed, connection time and fixing faults.
And that’s not on.
Over a year ago, the Government published draft internet connectivity standards which would entrench, not solve, the telecommunications divide between cities and the regions.
We’ve seen zero progress on those draft standards since, and I highly doubt we will before the next election.
What’s worse, is that the government intends to establish those standards via regulation. That means internet standards would be at the total discretion of the Minister, not enshrined and protected in law like this bill does.
That doesn’t sound like adequate protection to me, especially under a government which said the NBN rollout was complete when it wasn’t, and is trying to force cash-strapped local councils in the regions to foot the bill for the rest of the build.
If we can legislate and protect employment and education standards, then we can legislate and protect internet standards.
This bill has broad in-principle support from peak bodies across the nation, from the National Farmers Federation to the Small Business Council of Australia and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Group.
Here’s some what the NFF had to say:
“Current telco service guarantees and service performance are not up to standard, and change is needed to reflect the needs of consumers and businesses
… the value of the tax dollars of Australians in the bush has no lesser value of that of city dwellers … not only is this unjust, the ramifications of drawn-out repairs times are potentially, life-threatening.
If Australia is going to continue the transformation to a digital economy in the regions, Statutory Infrastructure Providers [like the NBN] need to provide an environment to support that transformation”.
I couldn’t agree more.
And regional business leaders and entrepreneurs also back the bill.
One of them is the inspirational Jo Palmer, the founder and CEO of Pointer Remote which empowers city-based employers to hire talent remotely in the regions. Jo says:
“For those who do not have access to a strong, reliable connection, they are excluded from participating in the workforce remotely. The faster and more equitable access to a strong reliable connection secured through the Faster Internet for Regional Australia Bill, we can access work, pay tax and stimulate the economy at a community level, with major flow on effects for national GDP.”
And according to Matt Pfahlert, the CEO of the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship based in Beechworth. He says:
“This bill respects the enormous challenges rural job innovators already face to create new business and industry opportunities.
Rural communities do not need to be further hobbled, and deserve a sporting chance in a global marketplace by having a reliable telco infrastructure that is currently taken for granted by people in metropolitan areas.”
Again, I couldn’t agree more.
It’s clear the government has backed away when it comes to holding telcos to account in the regions. We deserve communications excellence at all times, just like the cities.
This bill does this, and I commend it to the House.