The coalitions upgrade plans for the NBN has sparked ire from a resident of Sutton who believes Labor’s original plan to roll out fibre from the first, should have been the plan followed from the start.

“Over here in Sutton we are on the Skymuster satellite which is ridiculous for an area within 25kms from the National Parliament,” complained Alistair Henchman. “Our (old) ADSL is just as good as the satellite!”

Mr Henchman said the problem has amplified since COVID forced more people into remote working.

“I run a business from home and rely on my connectivity for meetings and document transfers. Even before COVID lockdowns, my system struggled and with many more people working from home and attending online meetings, the network is clearly under pressure.”

On 23 September 2020, the Federal Government made several announcements about upgrades to the NBN. This included that NBN would establish a dedicated $300 million fund for regional co-investment alongside state/territory governments and local councils to improve broadband services for rural and regional communities. This announcement stated that this decision represented “a dedicated source of funding to partner with [state] governments, enabling NBN Co to generate a threshold commercial return on its contributed capital through the application of co-investment funding.”

According to General Manager Chris Berry, Yass Valley Council has been working with Regional NSW and Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council on improving digital connectivity for businesses and residents of Sutton, Bywong and Wamboin.

The project was part of an election promise by the Deputy Premier and is being led by Regional NSW.

Kristy McBain – Federal Member for Eden-Monaro

The project aims to identify a vendor to deliver digital connectivity services in regional pilot locations at the same or better price and performance (speed and quality) levels as services in metropolitan areas.

Sutton, Bywong and Wamboin are pilot locations. The project includes investment in fibre infrastructure, local access networks and data hubs for a faster, more reliable internet.

Regional NSW ran an Expression of Interest process in May/June 2020, but at this stage, no announcement has been made on the outcomes.

During a recent visit to Yass, newly installed federal member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain spoke about the challenge regional residents in her electorate are facing on connectivity.

“I am hopeful we will see a lot of money spent in regional areas, particularly around telecommunications. We’ve seen the new NBN announcement, whilst later than what we would have liked and more costly than it needed to be there is a recognition now that that technology would be far better and would allow better internet speed and connectivity to a range of different areas.

Ms McBain pointed out the disparity of service so close to the nation’s capital.

“Eden-Monaro literally surrounds the ACT, and you do not have to leave the territory very far before you lose your mobile phone service or where the NBN is never planned to be rolled out.”

Ms McBain believes that is a severe mistake.

“We really need to rethink how that works because we know that there are so many people that work in Canberra, go to school in Canberra and rely on Canberra for services but actually live outside Canberra who should have access to the type of services that are available less than thirty kilometres away. There has to be a plan for regional development and I’m not seeing that; that’s what I want to see changed.”

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Olaf Thedan

Olaf Thedan, President of the Wamboin Communications Action Group advised a fibre broadband network project for the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton Communities is still being pursued.

Mr Olaf stated the poor state of telecommunications infrastructure in the villages has been brought into sharp focus under COVID management restrictions.

“Most residents have been spending much more time trying to work from home lately and the lack of high speed and reliable broadband (or any internet at all), has prevented us from doing so. This experience has starkly demonstrated the limitations of the internet service, such as it is, on which residents increasingly depend.  Many residents reached out to us to point out just how impossible it has been to participate in teleconferences, connect to the office, allow children to participate in online learning needs (especially when the schools were closed), or simply do email.”

Mr Olaf said these needs were a part of what drove the WCAG to lobby the NSW Government for a Fibre network some years ago.

“Community safety was another aspect and, if the fires last summer taught us anything, it is that communications are critical in both defence and recovery and, as the residents of the south coast learnt, you can’t rely on wireless internet or 4G.”

The NSW Government is supporting the construction of a fibre network to connect residences and businesses in the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton Communities. An ‘Expression of Interest” was released on 22 April to the market – asking for telecommunications providers to put forward proposals that encompassed the technical, costing and operational elements of establishing our network. Those proposals are now being considered.”

Mr Olaf advised the status of the project had not changed with the recent announcement to upgrade the NBN.

“The WCAG has spoken to our Project team in the NSW Government about the implications of this announcement for us. They confirmed that the commitment to deliver a fibre solution to our communities remains unchanged and that they are now investigating how (if at all) the NBN announcement might affect our fibre network project.”

The next stage of the process is to select the organisation to build and operate our new fibre network.  We understand that they expect to be in a position to make this decision by the end of the year and to have contracts in place by early 2021 – hopefully with construction commencing shortly afterwards.

Mr Olaf said frustration is real for all members of the community including local businesses.

“The project is making progress but certainly not at the speed we believe is necessary to meet the urgent needs of residents and businesses in Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton.”

The WCAG will continue to meet with the project team over the remainder of the year to represent the community’s interests and push for an acceleration of the projects schedule.