26 OCTOBER 2017
On a warm spring evening nearly 100 Canberrans gathered at the Belconnen Community Centre recently to discuss with Tara Cheyne MLA and me ways they use broadband and the challenges many of them are facing in getting a decent connection. In days gone by, fast internet was a luxury, but it's becoming a necessity. We don't just stream videos; we use fast internet to watch university lectures and for grandparents and their grandkids to stay in touch. Speedy internet is like water and electricity: a utility that we expect to be there when we need it.
Yet there were many troubling stories. One constituent said that when their child's internet was too slow to do their homework it meant that the child had to stay up late to finish it and sometimes ended up falling asleep in class the next day. A parent of a university student told us:
My daughter drives into university at night because our home connection is too slow. I worry about her returning to a deserted campus in the late hours and spending long periods alone in computer labs, but it's the only way she can get the speed she needs to get the core coursework done.
Another constituent said:
I'm trying to build a cyber security start-up, but it's hard to do it from home when we don't have a stable broadband connection.
A constituent who lives in Spence wrote to me after the forum, apologising for not being able to make it but telling the story of her three young children, two of whom have type 1 diabetes and rely on continuous blood glucose monitors. The constituent wrote:
… however due to the horrifically slow internet at our new house in Spence these devices have patches where they are useless. When connected to the home wifi (which we pay a lot for) there are moments when the internet isn't fast enough to get the data we need for the medical devices.
The constituent included images—screenshots from continuous glucose monitors—and said:
The horrible red band at the top shows "there seems to be an issue with your internet" and we see this altogether too much! Just below it shows NO DATA! Our worst nightmare, particularly through a long night of lows.
The constituent contrasted that to using their phone, which alerts the parent to 'potentially fatal hypos'. She writes to me:
Gaps in data are life threatening.
When Labor announced the building of the National Broadband Network we said we would aim to connect nine out of 10 Australian premises with fibre to the home. The advantage of fibre is that light signals travel through glass cables. As scientists develop better compression algorithms, the signal can speed up. We saw the transformative potential of this at a launch event at the Gungahlin Library, where students from Harrison School who are studying Japanese engaged in a high-definition videoconference with a partner school in Japan. They were able to communicate as though they were on either side of an HDTV screen and greatly add to their communication.
But the Abbott-Turnbull government's second-best model—meaning that the glass cables stop at a box in the street and the signals then travel down on copper cables—is hurting Canberra. A survey that my office has done, of a couple of hundred Canberrans, paints a picture of some of the challenges Canberrans are facing. Naturally with a couple of hundred respondents you don't necessarily get a full picture of the electorate. However, when we asked, 'Do you consider you receive the internet speeds that you are paying for?' 28 per cent said never and 12 per cent said rarely. When we asked constituents, 'How satisfied are you with your internet service?' 21 per cent said very dissatisfied and another 22 per cent said dissatisfied. When asked, 'What types of internet issues have you experienced in the past 12 months?' 33 per cent said slow internet speeds, 26 per cent said drop-outs or unreliable service and eight per cent said poor customer service.
Canberrans simply want what the rest of Australians are demanding from the Abbott-Turnbull government—do it once, do it right, do it with fibre. Under Labor there would be more fibre and less copper. The Prime Minister has promised that all Australians will be connected to the National Broadband Network by the end of 2016, but for many Canberrans that's just another broken promise from the Liberals. Whether they're in Belconnen or other parts of the electorate, my electors want to see a better National Broadband Network than they were promised by this government.