NBN upgrade to bring ultra-fast internet to eight million homes

Three in four Australian homes will have access to ultra-fast broadband in the next three years, in the biggest update to the National Broadband Network since 2013.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher will announce on Wednesday a $4.5 billion upgrade to NBN.

It will mean around 8 million homes will be able to access broadband speeds of up to one gigabit per second by 2023 - 6 million more than at present.

The investment would create 25,000 jobs, including nearly 17,000 during the construction phase. More than 8000 jobs would be created in the digital economy due to the upgrade, Mr Fletcher said, including in regional Australia.

"We expect a $1.5 billion uplift in GDP in regional Australia through having higher speed broadband, the better connectivity that this investment will deliver," Mr Fletcher said.

Mr Fletcher said the investment could even see more people move to regional Australia to work remotely.

"If you're a graphic designer or an architect or a software developer or a games designer, really anybody who's using high bandwidth connections ... to have a speed of up to 1 gigabit per second is going to be something that's an important part of your business.

"What this means is areas that today in regional Australia [where it] might not be a possibility for Australians wanting to live in a wonderful part of the country but also carry on their business or profession, it will be a possibility."

Around 7.5 million homes are now connected to the NBN, with a baseline speed of 25 megabits per second. Around 11.8 million premises are able to connect to the NBN.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

However only 18 per cent of fixed-line premises can access ultra-fast broadband.

The opposition has accused the coalition of butchering the NBN rollout.

"Paul Fletcher has today confirmed what many have always known: the Liberals have been lying to Australians about the NBN for the past ten years," Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said.

"The web of untruths concocted by Malcolm Turnbull, and Paul Fletcher as his parliamentary secretary, have extracted a significant and unnecessary price on taxpayers and consumers."

Mr Fletcher argues Labor's plan would have built fibre everywhere before people were willing to pay for it.

His plan involves on-demand fibre to the node upgrades, capacity upgrades on the hybrid fibre coaxial network and work on the fibre to the curb network.

The Coalition government controversially chose to dump Labor's plan to build the network as fibre-to-the-premises when it came to power in 2013.

Under Labor, Australia's old copper fibre-to-the-node network would have been superseded by a combination of fibre-to-the-premises, fixed wireless and satellite technology.

The network was expected to reached 93 per cent of homes in Australia by June 2021, been able to reach peak speeds of one gigabits per second and cost $43 billion, according to initial estimates.

The final cost was estimated to be around $51 billion in 2018.

However Mr Fletcher said the coronavirus pandemic had vindicated the Coalition's decision to choose a combination of fibre-to-the-node, fibre-to-the-premises and upgrading the old Optus and Telstra cables in order to get the network rolled out faster.

"When COVID hit, 98 per cent of premises around Australia were able to connect. If Labor's original plan had been adopted by us, right now there'd be nearly 5 million fewer premises able to connect so NBN would not have been nearly as well suited to meet the COVID demands as it has," Mr Fletcher said.

"There's no doubt the pandemic has been a test for NBN, because overnight millions of Australians shifted to working from home and studying from home. NBN faced a test and it really passed the test.

"We've seen traffic levels up 20 to 30 percent at night, as high as 70 per cent up during the day and NBN has met that traffic level and allowed Australians to do things like video conferencing from home.

"If we'd been using the old broadband technology of ADSL, not only was that considerably slower down than NBN, it delivered virtually nothing up so it would not have coped with video conferencing."

Mr Fletcher said the pandemic had brought forward the need for high-speed broadband.

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"Our first focus was getting the volume rollout completed, we've largely done that, that now allows us to turn to upgrading the network," he said.

"What COVID has done is it's brought forward demand for high speed broadband, both from consumers - we've seen a huge jump in e-commerce activity around Australia in the past six months and much of that is likely to continue - but also from businesses that are meeting customer demand through online orders through e-commerce.

"What high-speed broadband means is you can serve a national market, indeed a global market, from regional locations like Birdsnest in Cooma and as we increase the footprint of locations in regional Australia where people can get really high-speed services, it's going to allow more and more businesses to do this."

with AAP

This story Millions more homes to get ultra-fast broadband in $4.5b NBN upgrade first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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