As expected, the National Broadband Network won’t be coming to Newcastle any time soon. Gosford gets it. Coffs Harbour gets it. Newcastle doesn’t for some time yet.
This was a topic of vigorous discussion at the last Lunaticks Society meeting, where it was suggested by people in regular contact with NBNCo and their suppliers that Newcastle wasn’t on the short term list.
Today the NBNCo announced their Three Year Roll-out Plan. The Prime Minister proudly trumpeted that areas like Campbelltown, Gosford and Coffs Harbour were next on the list but no mention of Newcastle and the Hunter.
The rather ambiguous roll-out plans on the NBNCo site suggests that work will “commence” in Newcastle and Charlestown areas some time before June 2015, with it being operational within 12 months of that. So maybe we will have NBN broadband by June 2016….over 4 years from now. And that commitment is only to 25% of the households in suburbs listed.
Here is the disclaimer on the NBNCo roll-out plan:
The Rollout Plans reflect NBN Co’s position as at 29th March 2012. The Rollout Plans are provided for information purposes and are intended to be a guide only. The contents of the Rollout Plans should not be relied upon as representing NBN Co’s final position on their subject matter, except where stated otherwise. Any views expressed by NBN Co in the Rollout Plans may change as a consequence of NBN Co finalising formal technical specifications, or legislative and regulatory developments. Any dates provided are indicative only. Any such dates are subject to change and are dependent upon a number of factors. The Rollout Plans may be withdrawn without notice. The Rollout Plans contain forward looking statements. These forward looking statements contain known and unknown risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond our control, and may involve significant elements of subjective judgement and assumptions as to future events which may or may not be correct. We make no representation or warranty, express or implied, as to the currency, accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information in the Rollout Plans.
To me that indicates nothing is set in concrete and expect things to change a lot in the next few years.
While the government and NBNCo line is that we’re well-serviced already for broadband, anyone living and working in Newcastle knows that’s far from the truth. If we’re back of the queue Newcastle will be left behind in the burgeoning digital economy.
The other major concern is that if there is a change of government next year, which right now appears to be on the cards, an incoming Coalition government could scrap or significantly reduce the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (as is their current stance). Those of us at the end of the queue will miss out and only those already under construction or completed will be serviced.
Should we sit on our hands and wait? NO. As is usual in Newcastle we will need to make something happen ourselves. The opportunities are too big and the risks of being left behind too great. Read My Plan for Creating an Innovative City or How to Build a Smart City.
As I have illustrated recently, Newcastle is in an ideal position to become a center for tech innovation. We have all the ingredients for a start-up and technology center. The space, the lifestyle, the lower cost of living and affordable office space whilst being just 2 hours drive away from Australia’s largest city, with a large airport on our outskirts plus a massive university and hospital. State and Federal governments should be looking at Newcastle as a solution for an increasingly overcrowded Sydney.
If the Federal Government (Labor or Coalition) and NBNCo won’t deliver high-speed broadband to Newcastle in a reasonable time-frame we need to make it happen ourselves.
I know of at least two companies, Davicom and Countrytell (client disclosure) who have plans to deliver wireless mesh across the city and WiMax Broadband throughout the area. They’re already doing it in other regional areas of NSW with local government support. They have the plans and technology in place, they just need the support here in Newcastle in order to commence. It could be up and running this year, putting us well ahead of the rest of Australia.
Who do they need support from? The region’s major stakeholders and employers; University of Newcastle, Hunter Area Health (and John Hunter Hospital), Hunter TAFE and local councils. Then its a matter of tapping into the broader business community, especially major industries represented by Hunternet.
Each of these organisations would benefit from faster, more cost-effective communications immediately. Their support ensures the commercial viability of the proposed WiFi and WiMax solutions, then the benefits begin to trickle down to the rest of the business community and the community in general.
Towns like Austin in Texas have over 1/8 of the population working at the 3900 tech companies in the area (more info here). Newcastle could attract a similar tech community to enjoy our amazing beaches, relaxed lifestyle and short commutes if we had high-speed broadband and other necessary infrastructure.
My belief is that if the Federal government isn’t going to make this happen in Newcastle soon it is definitely in the interests of the State Government and its local members Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell to help these plans become a reality. If they help secure initial funds and then sit down with the other major employers listed above we can get ahead of the NBN roll-out and be in control of our own destiny in the Newcastle area.
What can you do?
Start lobbying your local members, especially State members, and tell them we want high-speed broadband in Newcastle. Lobby your local councils and tell them the same. Write letters to The Herald asking why we’ve been left behind yet again. Call 1233ABC and speak to Aaron Kearney or Carol Duncan who are both passionate about this issue. Tweet the Premier Barry O’Farrell and let him know we want a solution (remember he’s not the cause of this but might be able to support a solution).
Don’t get me wrong, its great that are at least on the list now. I want the NBN here in Newcastle as soon as possible. I don’t want us to be left behind. But I also don’t want everyone to think “we’re on the list now so it’ll be fine” because its not that clear cut. We can’t afford to be complacent.
We have a right to be frustrated about where we are in the queue for the NBN and I am genuinely concerned that a change of government could see us miss out altogether. The point is we can have high-speed broadband in this area sooner rather than later. We would benefit from a comprehensive wireless mesh irrespective of the NBN being here.
Do you want to wait until 2016 or beyond? Its time to raise our voices and make it happen.