10.00 am AEDST
13 October 2016
The nbn fibre
to the node system, that is, the node is a little point outside your house,
there’s some distance between it and your place. The problem with that is that
at the current set up, if there is a power failure, the node doesn’t work. Now,
Peter Gurney, from nbn told me, on air, ‘get a mobile as a back-up’. But of
course, if there’s a power outage, that may fail too. And I said, ‘what then,
Peter?’ He said, well use UHF. But of course UHF is only good if you’re talking
to your neighbours because what’s happened is that the comms have migrated to
the GRN network. Now, providers have suggested that you get an emergency pack,
but I’ve rung a few people that are going to sell nbn and they’ve never heard
of that. We have a system that’s piggy backing on the internet. We have had a
reliable copper wire service, and I think I told you yesterday that in the
United Kingdom it runs alongside the fibres as a back-up. So, we’ve decided not
to do that. Okay, so, my point is this: I can’t believe that any Member of
Parliament, I don’t care where they’re from, government or opposition, would
actually roll out something knowingly, that doesn’t work during a blackout. Let’s
talk to the Federal Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. Now, Mitch, I know
that you’ve inherited this situation, but were you aware of any of this?
Leon, yes, I’ve
always been aware, during my time as Minister for Communications, that the NBN
is being rolled out in a way that will see a different operating environment. And
I think, if we could just go back half a step. I’ve been listening to recordings
of your program over the last few days. And I think there’s a bit of a
misapprehension that at the moment on the copper network, for people who haven’t
moved to the nbn, that in all cases, in the event of the blackout, people would
be able to pick up their fixed line phone and make a call.
The reality is
that we have very different technology plugging into the copper network at the
moment. For people on the copper network today, large numbers of people have
cordless phones. In many, many cases, those cordless phones won’t work on the
copper network during a blackout. There are many other devices which are
currently plugged into the network which won’t work during a blackout. What I’m
talking about is the existing copper network. So, the way that we’re using communication
devices has changed. And I wouldn’t want anyone to be thinking that they, even
today, can automatically rely on making a voice call on the old copper network.
the old copper network is going to be obsolete, so my point is this: you
surely, are not going to roll out a system which is useless during a blackout?
Well, again, I
think we have to look at the way that we’re using devices. We have about 94 per
cent of Australians have smart phones. There are about five and a half million
Australians who don’t have a fixed line phone…
Are you aware
that you don’t have to have a state-wide shut down to have mobile towers go down
with local blackouts?
In an emergency
environment, whether there be storms or fire or other events, there’s no
absolute guarantee for any form of communications. Whether it be mobile phone.
Whether it be fixed line services. And during the South Australia blackout, there
were tens of thousands of premises in South Australia, on the copper network,
whose services weren’t operational. So, there’s no fool proof guarantee with
any communications system in an emergency situation.
Again, I point
out a very simple proposition. If you migrate to nbn, you will not have a
landline to anywhere if there is a power failure, point one. Point two, get a
mobile, but if there is a failure of that mobile, and can I just tell you
something else, you’re fully aware of what Professor Bill Caelli has been
And he made the
very obvious point, that if there is an emergency and you’ve got mobile, your
tower is going to be so busy with calls, you may find a situation where even if
there is power to the tower, you can’t use that phone. Now, the next option nbn
said was, get a UHF, well, as I think you’ll realise, that’s pretty ridiculous.
So, I just want to ask you, what do you expect people to do, who’ve got medical
alarms, they’ve got, maybe, monitored issues with their health or they’ve got
security alarms. None of these will work with the nbn system if the batteries
or the power goes down. So, what are we going to do?
Just on the
first point of the UHF. I think Peter Gurney was seeking to make the point that
in regional areas there are many people who do have UHF because they mightn’t
necessarily have mobile coverage. Because it’s something that’s a safety
feature, you know, if you’re operating on a large property you need to stay
connected. So, I don’t think he was advocating that that is something for
people in metropolitan areas. He was just making the observation that there are
some people in regional areas who have UHF.
you have you heard about the emergency pack that he mentioned?
It’s common for
emergency services organisations, for the police, for the Country Fire
Authority, and also for nbn to simply make the recommendation that it’s good
practise to have an emergency pack. nbn is merely reflecting, conveying, the
advice of the emergency services, which is that it’s…
greatest respect to you, sir, this was in the context of “What do you do when
you can’t use the nbn?” The emergency pack, I doubt, is going to give you
access to triple 000, or anybody else, or loved ones. So, let’s cut to the
chase here. What do you expect people to do if they don’t have power, they’ve
got an nbn system, what are they supposed to do?
Sure. Just on
the emergency pack, and I’ve looked at the NBN material. It’s essentially
replicating the advice of the emergency services. Which is, it’s good to have a
battery powered radio transistor. It’s good to have a torch. It’s good to have a
charged mobile. And it’s good to have some battery back-up for your mobile.
That really was the point that he was making.
You touched on
medical alarms and this is a very important area. nbn has recognised that this
is critically important. So in 2014 nbn launched a Medical Alarm Register.
They’re working closely with the major monitored medical alarm companies. They’re
registering. Individuals are self-registering. There are over 158,000 people
who are currently registered. And in parallel with that, nbn have a Medical
Alarm Subsidy Scheme to help people transition to the nbn. Essentially, in a
lot of cases, what they’ll be doing is helping people to have a device that is
connected to 3G. So nbn…
This is called,
this is called Permaconn. Who’ll pay for that?
the purpose of the Medical Alarm Subsidy Scheme is to cover the costs of that
me, that’s good, because we didn’t know about that…
…and Leon, I
think this is important. If I can give you and your listeners the number for
nbn’s Medical Alarm Register. Because nbn want to know who are on medical
alarms so that they can be carefully transitioned across to the nbn and still
have the services they want. And that number is 1800 227 300.
1800 227 300.
Now what about those people with other monitored alarms – security for example
– or people who want to be able, or those, for example, the care alerts, with
the pendant, they need the phone line. Do they have to register as well?
encouraging everyone who has a medical alarm to register with nbn so they can
seek advice as to how to transition to the nbn. nbn is also working closely
with other organisations. There are monitored emergency alarms as well. There are
lift emergency phones. And nbn is working closely with relevant organisations
to ensure that those can transition.
you’ve got the medical people covered through a 3G network which will be over
and above whatever you get in normal circumstances. What happens now, let’s say
nbn is going to come down your street tomorrow, and they knock at your door,
and you’ve heard these things broadcast on Double A or you’ve watched Today
Tonight or whatever, or you’re aware that there’s some issues, and you say I
don’t want nbn. Where are you left?
Well one of the
bases of the nbn is that every Australian premise will have access to the nbn.
So the nbn is coming, that…
So you have no
It’s been a
decision of successive governments that the nbn will be delivered to everyone’s
household. But I think something also important for your listeners Leon. From
when nbn comes to your place and you have the opportunity to hook up to it, you
have 18 months before you will have the old system switched off. So that’s 18
months for people to work out what are the arrangements. So, we want people,
particularly who have medical alarms to register now. So that they can transition.
But even when the nbn comes to their street, even when they’re hooked up,
they’ll still have 18 months to ensure that they have arrangements in place.
Some of them
have fibre-to-the-node which is outside their premises all together, on public
property, that’s where the node is. Some of them have a box connected to their
house which can have a backup battery.
I asked nbn
about this the other day, Peter Gurney, and I asked him what the price was, if
you’re offered it to the node and you say well I want a box like that person I
saw on television. He didn’t know what the price was but it is going to be
somewhat expensive. What determines who gets the node and who gets the box?
Well, the fibre
to the premise was the approach of the previous government. They essentially
took a theological approach to the nbn. Had to be fibre. It had to be everywhere.
Regardless of the cost and regardless of how long it took. We’ve taken, I guess
what I call, a technology agnostic approach. Which is, our mandate to nbn is
roll it out as quickly as you can and at lowest cost. That’s going to see the
nbn completed six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under our
predecessors and at $30 billion less cost.
What that means
is that there are about two million premises in Australia that will get fibre
to the premise. We’ve got about six million premises that will get fibre to the
node. And there’s fixed wireless and satellite and also using HFC Pay TV cable
in other areas. What determines what you will get is the technology that makes
sense in your area. So, where you’ve got Telstra HFC cable in some of the
capital cities, then that’s how a lot of people will get it. In other places
it’ll be fibre to the node. So it’s really based on what will see it rolled out
fastest and at lowest cost.
Why did you
decide not to battery backup the node system, as has been suggested by
Professor Kelly, which would solve a lot of this unreliability business?
to their mandate, look at the range of roll out options. The range of
technology options. And how they’ll configure things. They took the view that
they were recognising the way it is that people actually use communications
today. Recognising what it is that people actually have plugged into their premises
and that even on the existing copper network, there are so many people who have
devices plugged in that they communicate through which wouldn’t operate in a
power blackout situation –even under the existing copper network. So they’re
really designing it to reflect the way that people use communication devices.
recognising that vulnerable people who have medical alarms, who are often on
fixed low incomes, that there needed to be a solution for them. Which has been
done. Also recognising that something of the order of only about 16 per cent of
Australians actually use a fixed line phone every day.
let me summarise this and if I’m wrong you correct me. You’ve got the medical
people covered through a 3G network which will cost but you’ll subsidise them.
But if you’re an ordinary person with a monitored alarm, you’re going to have
to go at your own expense and get a permacon system, same as those who are
under medical duress, if you want a base to monitor your premises. That’s going
to be the case isn’t it?
What nbn is
doing, in terms of their medical alarm subsidy scheme, it’s focused on those
devices that meet the Australian Standard. And the Australian Standards
requirement for those devices to have a backup of power. So that’s what nbn is
using as its benchmark.
So cutting to
the chase, I’m just making the point, that for the ordinary person who’s got
monitored security, you’ll have to make your own arrangements when you get the
For people with
monitored alarms, nbn want them to register with the Medical Alarm Register.
Hang on, we
talked about the medical. If you’re an ordinary person, you don’t have a
medical issue, but you’ve got a monitored alarm, where do you stand?
If you’ve got a
different type of alarm device, it’s important for people in that situation to talk
to their service provider. Because there are a range of products in that
category. To talk to their service provider to see how that will work in the nbn
It may well be
the case that some of the companies who are offering these products need to
modify those products to be compatible with the nbn. But that’s something
that’s important for people who have those devices to talk to their service
Fifield thanks for coming on today. That’s the Communications Minister Mitch
Fifield covering the territory that we’ve talked about.