ABC Mornings Brisbane with Steve Austin
Parliament House Canberra
11 October 2017
E & OE
we put in a call to the Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, after
reading an article he wrote in The Financial Review, and by coincidence he
agreed to come on this morning. Minister good morning to you thanks for
coming on this morning.
there anything, I know you don’t know about Marty’s case, but is there anything
you can say to Marty. It seems extraordinary that he hasn’t been able to
get an internet landline for fifteen years, and has been having to fork out
serious money for a wireless connection.
clearly the fact that Marty hasn’t been able to get good internet, or any
internet at all for fifteen years…
landline is a function of the pre NBN world. The great thing about the
NBN rollout is our absolute guarantee to Australia is that every premise will
be connected to the NBN. Now I understand Marty would dearly love to be
connected to the NBN today, and preferably yesterday. But the good news is that
by 2020 everyone in the nation will have access to fast broadband via the NBN.
pre NBN world is a world of copper wire. And all around southeast
Queensland many of us are putting up with copper wire that is so old it needs
to be replaced but no one takes responsibility for it, even when it breaks down
or doesn’t do the job. The Government is persisting with the rollout of
copper wire in places like Brisbane and other places.
as a network fundamentally is a fibre network. In some places,
particularly in the fibre to the node part of the network, there will be copper
for that last connection from the node to the premise. But you can get
fast broadband speeds over that connection. And what is really
interesting to note is that around the world, whether you are talking the
United States or Europe, what they do is they pursue what we are doing, a multi
technology mix where you have ADSL. Using parts of the existing infrastructure.
You use fibre to the prem in some cases, particularly in greenfields
estates. You use the old HFC pay TV network as well. And satellite and
fixed wireless. So we’re doing what the rest of the world does and that’s
use the technology that makes sense in a given area that can see broadband
delivered fastest and at lowest cost.
Guardian newspaper has a report that the disaster coordinators on both the
Sunshine Coast and the Redlands had a meeting this week with the NBN and expressed
their real concern about the reliability and the resilience of the NBN in times
of cyclone, flood or bushfire. Their concern is that each node, which is
your preferred model, has its own power supply which could be lost if the
electricity grid drops out during a disaster such as a flood or a
cyclone. Now apparently this was raised, and the NBN is well aware of
it. But it has been said that it’s a built in flaw. Can you speak
to that, can you address that issue Minister.
is no communications network that is failsafe at a time of natural disaster or
at a time of power outage. One of the myths I guess about the pre NBN
world is that in all circumstances at every time the pre NBN network would
work, even in a power outage. Now you need power to the exchange
obviously in the pre NBN network. But even in the premise most people
these days, even in the pre NBN network, have cordless phones which require
power from the power point. So if the power goes out at your place, even
in the pre NBN world, you are not necessarily going to be able to use your land
line. So you should never rely on one technology at a time of natural
disaster. It is important to have a fully charged mobile phone. Have
access to a radio. Make sure that you have got a range of options.
coming into the disaster season here in Queensland. The Bureau has warned
of four cyclones, one of which is guaranteed to cross the Coast. The NBN
are clearly aware of this problem because they said they are planning a rollout
of small portable petrol generators as a further backup. But the former head of
the NBN Mike Quigley, has quoted and told The Guardian that the copper system
is nowhere near as resilient as fibre, and that the concerns being raised here
in Queensland should concern emergency response teams. Is he right?
as I say, there is no communications network in time of fire or power outage
that is a hundred percent reliable. Even if you are talking mobile phones, if
there is a disconnection to the power to a mobile phone tower they have battery
backup for a certain period of time. But what they need to do,
particularly in critical areas, is then get a petrol generator to the
site. There is no communications network that is failsafe.
Australia’s NBN internet speed slower than Kenya’s? As was reported.
depends. There’s 1.75% of Kenyans who have access to broadband and they have
marginally faster broadband than the 90% of Australians who have access.
This is one of the really frustrating things Steve, you see these headlines
which say that Kenya has faster and better broadband than Australia. It’s
complete rubbish. 1.75% of Kenyans have access to broadband. Only
1.75%. On no measure, it doesn’t matter how you slice it or dice it, you
can’t possibly say that that means that Kenya has better broadband than
Australia when more than 98% of Kenyans have no access to broadband. It’s
it’s an unfair comparison.
We have 90% of Australians who have access to broadband now. Under the
NBN it will be 100%. Only 1.75% of Kenyans have access to
broadband. So if you are part of the Kenyan elite and you are lucky
enough to have broadband, then you might have broadband which is marginally
faster than that which Australians have. But Steve 1.75% of Kenyans have
access. More than 98% don’t.
there are real concerns about the operation of the NBN here. The
Australian Competition of Consumer Commission, the regulator, is concerned that
industry uncertainty springing from the NBN’s charging structure is quote
“having an adverse effect on competition and consumers”. Have you been
able to address that concern?
have, as you know Steve, a wholesale network in NBN. The retail service
providers purchase capacity from NBN to service their customers. It is
incumbent upon retailers to make sure that they purchase enough capacity to
honour the commitments that they have made to their customers. Now NBN
has a pricing structure which has two components. I don’t want to get too
technical. But there is an AVC and a CVC component. And the focus of most
of the retailers has been on what’s called the CVC. This is a charge
which is not set in stone. It’s been…
it has been because people like Steve Baxter, who is about to become
Queensland’s chief entrepreneur. And you know Mr Baxter I’m sure.
He’s criticized very strongly and consistently the charge that NBN charges
users for the CVC charge.
the CVC charge is a charge to the retailers. And, as I was about to say, it’s
not a charge that is set in stone. It’s already been discounted by NBN on
three occasions. NBN is in the middle of consultations with retailers and
is looking at ways of further shaping that charge to better suit
retailers. Now NBN wants to see successful retailers. Absolutely. But NBN
also needs to be in a position where it covers its costs and where it is able,
in the fullness of time, as it needs to, to progressively upgrade the
network. Because there is no communications network in the world that is
set in stone. They do need upgrade from time to time. And NBN needs
the opportunity to do that and to cover its costs.
is the return to Government, the value of the NBN dropping? It has been
marked down according to a finance writer for The Australian from 7.1% to now
down to 2.7% last year. Why is that?
not sure what you are referring to, you are probably referring to the internal
rate of return?
was an internal rate of return, I think of about 7% under our predecessors,
which was I think an unrealistic one. We’ve got a modest internal rate of
return under the NBN with 3.2 – 3.7% which is 1%, I think, above the long term
inflation rate. So it is very modest internal rate of return.
number of my listeners are heavily disputing your claim about Kenya. They
are all saying that on average Kenya does have faster average than Australia’s
broadband speeds. But I will move on.
I have just got to address that. In Kenya you have to be one of the
privileged, wealthy few to have access to the NBN, to the broadband.
when you get it it is faster than Australia’s apparently.
only 1.7% of Kenyans have access to any broadband at all.
when you get it it is faster than Australia’s
have some private sector companies who have cabled up a small number of
premises, in areas where wealthy people live, and they have marginally
faster. But Steve…
everyone’s made their point I think.
this is cloud cuckoo land stuff. To claim that a nation, where you have
more than 98% of people who have no access to broadband, that that country has
better broadband than Australia, which has 90% access, will have 100% access,
is going to have a network where you are going to have a mandated minimum speed
of 25mbps, where 90% of the fixed line footprint is going to have speeds of
50mbps. To claim that that is inferior to a nation where more than 98% of
people have no access to broadband is just bizarre.
have excellent mobile phone coverage and I think that is the reason why.
One of the best mobile phone coverages in the world apparently. I’ll move
on. One listener Nigel says why is one in six HFC users declared ready
for service but unable to be activated on the NBN. Can you speak to that,
do you know why that is.
Steve. The approach that we are taking when an area is declared ready for
service is that even if there is a percentage of people whose premises need
further works we don’t hold up the access to everyone else in that area for the
NBN. We could say that no one in an area is going to be able to access
the NBN until 100% of premises have had the work done. But that would
delay the overwhelming majority of Australians getting access to the NBN.
So there will be a percentage of people in an area whose premises need
additional work once an area has been declared ready for service.
you come into Brisbane studio for me and take talk back on this for Brisbane
arrange that a soon as we can. Minister thanks for your time.
Good to talk.