NBN ‘kills’ plans for high-speed internet in regional areas

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Australia’s geographical internet divide could grow even further, with the company behind the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) revealing that it has dumped its plan to offer the maximum potential speeds to hundreds of thousands of households in regional areas.

NBN Co has axed plans to provide maximum 100Mbps download speeds to more than 300,000 regional customers, citing a lack of demand from users.

The 300,000-plus customers concerned are on the NBN fixed wireless network, which primarily services regional areas outside major hubs.

NBN boss Bill Morrow told a Senate Estimates committee on Thursday night that the top-flight speed tier available to urban customers will now not be made available to regional customers.

“We killed it [100Mbps speeds],” Mr Morrow said. “Never say never, but it’s not on the roadmap any longer.”

The fixed wireless network uses mobile data technology to provide broadband, instead of a fixed line fibre or copper line.

“There’s not mass-market demand for 100 [Mbps] services… it’s hard to find applications that warrant the need for 100Mbps,” Mr Morrow said.

Mr Morrow added that if all fixed wireless connections wanted to achieve the top speeds, it would be a cost-prohibitive exercise.

“I don’t want to say $5 billion, $10 billion or $100 billion, but it’s cost prohibitive. [It’s] a loss-leading effort,” he said.

Mr Morrow did say, however, that the new 5G network could be a positive step in achieving better speeds for regional customers.

“Maybe on a spot-by-spot basis there’s some fixed wireless towers using 5G that can go up to a gigabit service, but I can’t imagine a technology world where offering them all gigabit services would be feasible,” said Mr Morrow.

In January, NBN Co told Parliament that half of its 600,000-plus customer base on the fixed wireless network will be able to achieve 100Mbps maximum speeds by 2020.

The news comes after it was found in a Senate inquiry that 18 fixed wireless locations have speeds that are slower than 3Mbps during peak periods. This comprised of one per cent of fixed wireless access points, and primarily affected those in regional areas, with four locations in the Northern Territory.

The total cost of the NBN rollout is expected to cost the taxpayer more than $40 billion.

MyRepublic internet customers in Singapore can purchase a 1Gbps broadband plan with unlimited data from $50 a month.

So, what’s the deal with the NBN now?

It appears the internet speed gap between regional and urban customers is going to continue to grow.

Earlier in the year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported ‘better than expected’ results on the fixed line network, which primarily services urban areas.

This is in contrast to some fixed wireless connections getting internet slower than Turkey had in 2012.

Earlier in the week, Canstar Blue research found that fewer people are “looking forward” to the NBN arriving to their home than a year ago. Just 43 per cent of survey respondents said they were keen for the switchover, as opposed 62 per cent 12 months earlier.

Two thirds of customers also reported being reluctant to switch to the NBN due to recent bad press about speeds, and 63 per cent wish they could just keep their old internet connection.

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