What has the NBN put in the too-hard basket?

Angus Kidman 4 April 2017

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Everyone is supposed to be connected by 2020, but there are some niggling issues.

By the middle of this year, the National Broadband Network should be halfway to its goal of connecting 8 million premises to faster Internet services. In recent weeks, we've seen a few developments that highlight some of the less obvious difficulties in reaching that goal.

Firstly, there was the revelation that 4,013 premises in city areas will be connected using NBN's Sky Muster satellite. That number does include some areas which are classified as "cities" but are actually entirely remote, such as Lord Howe Island. Nonetheless, it seems surprising that a technology which is primarily designed to service highly remote areas is also being used in highly populated locations. Given the number of protests there have been from bandwidth-starved customers about the fact that Qantas is also using Sky Muster for in-flight Internet, I suspect we'll be hearing about this figure again.

Then there was the news that Optus has been telling some customers on its current cable network that they will have to switch to an NBN service within 30 days, rather than the 18-month period between deployment of the NBN and switching off older networks that has applied in most other cases. Optus said that the 30-day period quoted in a letter to customers was an error, and that it actually meant 90 days. Either way, given the general levels of ignorance we've seen about services switching off, most recently evident in the cancellation of NBN's interim satellite service, that's likely to lead to a few more tears before bedtime.

Finally, and most disturbingly, there was the reminder that even when your area is scheduled to be connected, it might not happen. NBN chief Bill Morrow confirmed in a recent Senate hearing that 98,000 premises have been categorised as "Service Class 0", which means that they haven't been connected even after NBN has been rolled out in the area. While those houses will be connected eventually, it isn't clear when.

How does a home end up in the "too hard" basket? One common scenario is when there hasn't been any phone connection previously. For premises that are being connected using fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), there's a presumption that there will already be copper coming into the building. If there isn't, chances are good you won't get serviced at the same time as your neighbours.

The NBN is a massive project, so problems are to be expected. Let's hope these are just minor glitches and not the start of some major unravelling.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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