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NBN Unveils Its Three Year Plan

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, broadband minister Senator Stephen Conroy and NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley this morning launched the three-year rollout plan for the National Broadband Network. Here’s the full blow-by-blow live report.

10:30 I’m at the launch of NBN Co’s three-year rollout plan, which is being held at the Australian Technology Park offices of NICTA in Sydney. Odd factoid: The last time I was at the technology park was for a high speed broadband announcement as well. Maybe there’s something about the place.

It’s expected that the plan will cover a greatly expanded area of Australia, but the devil will, as always, be in the detail. NBN Co hasn’t entirely hit the targets in previous plans, so it’ll be fascinating to see what’s announced as done, doing and being projected. (For those who want to watch along, I believe it’s also being broadcast on ABC News 24.)

The event doesn’t kick off until 11am, so for now it’s just media milling and folks rushing around with clipboards. I’ll update this post as new information is announced, so hit refresh for the latest details.

10:45: Media’s been moved up to the back of the room. Probably the best place for us. Soothing background music plays…

If nothing else, this will be a brutal test of the wireless going into the place.

11:20: And we’re (finally) underway. Or at least the Prime Minister has walked into the room, which is probably the same thing. Unless otherwise stated, all statements in quote marks below aren’t mine (unless I mistype)…

Hugh Durrant-Whyte , NICTA (also serving as event MC): “ICT is now pervasive in all areas of the economy”

“The digital economy is taking off; this will be accelerated as the ubiquity of the NBN comes to fruition.”

Julia Gillard:

“I’ve recently been in Korea; I had the opportunity to be on a linkup to a school in Armidale. Watching the power of that education experience reinforced in me that I do not want to see our nation left behind.”

“Whilst our 100-year-old copper network has served us well, it cannot deliver the broadband we need in the future. We will see choked off the economic opportunities of the future. This will bring a different way of working and living to homes and businesses.”

“We are announcing today that more than 3.5 million homes, businesses schools and hospitals will be connected in the next three years. More than 1 million in NSW alone. Around 700,000 premises in Victoria, 680,000 in Queensland, 480,000 in Western Australia, 330,000 in South Australia, 65,000 in the Northern Territory and over 200,000 in Tasmania. This three-year plan covers about one-third of all the homes and premises in Australia.”

“We know in Tasmania its economy is in transition. Tasmania will see the benefits of the NBN today, and the ability for the NBN to transform the economy in the future. High speed broadband is simply going to revolutionise the way Australians live and work.”

Stephen Conroy::

“This announcement has been preceded by a lot of work by NBN Co. This ensures that what we are announcing today will be delivered. Includes agreement with NBN Co, the Government and Telstra. By re-using the existing infrastructure we’re helping to reduce the disruption to communities. Additionally, it will deliver the structural separation of Telstra. The copper network has served us well. Like the NBN, the copper network was rolled out by the government. The copper is strangling our economy — the NBN is essential for our future.”

“Australians who live and work outside our capital cities will be able to avoid hours of travelling via the NBN. Health services will mean you can see a specialist across town or in another city. Educational services online will mean our kids get access to a world class education.”

“NBN wholesale prices are the same wherever you are, with retail services being very competitive. We’ve seen prices as low as $29.95 a month; with 100/40 plans we’ve seen as low as $49.95. To those that have said that prices would be high and competition would be low, we can categorically demonstrate that this will be false.”

“For mainland Australia; electorates breakdown: 67 Labor, 61 Coalition, 6 cross-bench.”

Mike Quigley, NBN Co:

“We’ve carried out product trials in three Tasmanian and five mainland sites, involving more than 2,500 end users.” (Quigley’s basically going over NBN history here)

“All this work has allowed us to announce stage one of the large scale rollout today.”

(On priorities for the three year plan):

“First: Complete the first stage rollout plans. We had to achieve a balance across the states, and complete Tasmania by 2015. We had to prioritise the corridors where there were greenfield sites. We sequence the build to minimise cost and operate as efficiently as possible. We used optimisation software — which I won’t go into the details of.”

“The planners had no idea of electoral boundaries. Not even interested — I can assure you that wasn’t even considered.”

“All the key elements of the rollout are in place, and we look forward to being in your neighbourhood soon.”

Checking the NBN Co homepage, you can search for your address right now:

Gillard, Conroy and Quigley now taking questions:

“NBN questions first, then others.”

Q: Any guarantees if the 3.5 million covered if change at election?

Gillard: “There won’t be if there’s a change in government. There will be no broadband under Tony Abbott.”

Quigley: “We’re underway building 250,000 premises. By end of this financial year we’ll be adding 500,000. So about 750,000 underway or built by the end of this financial year.”

Conroy: “Abbot and Turnbull talk about fibre-to-the-node, which means you’re using the copper. Turnbull wants to buy the copper; that’s degrading; this is a plan that is rooted in the last century. It’s a plan that ignores that the bandwidth demands in this country continue to expand exponentially.”

Q: Will the Huawei decision be a problem with China?

Gillard: “I’ve stood up for Australian national interest; the opposition has stood up for a Chinese company. China itself takes a view about its own telecommunications rollout. We’ve taken a decision in the national interest and of course we stand by it.”

Q: On reports of NBN cost blowouts today:

Conroy: “We reject right wing economic dogma. [Reports today] have serious factual errors; continue to misquote speed and the number of homes connected. The market failed; this is a natural monopoly.”

Gillard: “From a common sense perspective in Australia, we’re a very big country; needs here are different from countries with different size.”

Q: Given polls and public cynicism, why doesn’t Labor push the NBN more?

Gillard: “I don’t accept your analysis of community opinion on the NBN. Inevitably with a new technology like this, levels of understanding will vary, but when I talk to business people they’re very aware of the NBN; [healthcare likewise]. In education they’re aware of how it’s going to open a window of opportunity to the world.”

Conroy: “There is a need for greater community awareness. NBN Co has just started a radio advertising campaign, and there’s newspaper advertising coming.”

Q: With the three-year plan, when do you expect to complete the rollout?

Quigley: “We’ve had some delays with the Telstra deal, which has happened. We have to submit a new corporate plan to the government by the end of May; we will be doing everything we can do to catch up; it’s expected to be a decade long process.”

Q: Have NBN Engineers examined Huawei gear for backdoor spying possibilities?

Quigley: “I won’t comment on that.”

Q: What about site selection?

Quigley: “We do sites in modules — about 2,5000 to 3,000 premises. What we do, you may find there are constraints in particular areas depending on whether we have the links, or it could be straight engineering; we don’t want to do too many places in the same area because of congestion issues. We know we’re going to have some people who are disappointed; in 12 months’ time we’ll give an update.”

Conroy: “What you’ll see in areas is that it grows out organically. We can’t do every street in Australia in the next three years.”

Q: What percentage of premises already connected are using it?

Quigley: “That varies. We have eight sites now; the takeup rates do vary. We built those sites as trials to test operations, construction and general products. The takeup rate we are very pleased with. In Kiama, takeup rates are above 25 per cent. Compared to overseas, they don’t get those kinds of takeup rates within four years.”

Gillard: “One thing that has to be remembered is that people adapt to new technology. There were a lot of people here hunched over iPhones or blackberries. There were a lot of folk when those came out — myself included — who couldn’t see a use for it. How wrong was I? That’s an example of how technology can take a hold in our community. With the NBN, we’ll see the same (thing).”

Q: Will there be new suburbs in the 12 month update

Gillard: “Yes, there will be. We’re rolling out — we’re on a roll.”

Q: When will we see the copper switched off?

Quigley: “Deal with Telstra has become unconditional. Once we declare, it’ll overall take 18 months, although the CEO of Telstra wants to make that faster. That’ll happen as we build the modules, we’ll do them one at a time.”

Q: Any plans to assist businesses that miss out on the next three years?

Gillard: “I understand businesses will be anxious; put it simply as possible we’re determined to get the NBN around the country; we’ll be saying to the Australian people that this is a project of significance to the Australian people. You can only do what in the real world you can do. If I could snap my fingers and have every premises connected in a second, would I do it? Of course I would. But we don’t live in that world.”

NBN Co has a video up as well.


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