NBN rollout probe raises concerns about ‘digital divide’ and small business impact



By James Harkness

The current design and rollout of the National Broadband Network is likely to maintain – and perhaps even increase – Australia’s ‘digital divide’, according to the parliamentary committee tasked with inquiring into the NBN rollout.

In a report handed down, last week, the Joint Standing Committee on the NBN noted the network’s rollout presents many economic, health and business opportunities to Australians in regional, rural and remote areas, including innovation in agriculture. However, the committee expressed concern that NBN is “delivering a service of quite varied quality” with the potential to fall short of the vision for a ubiquitous network that makes reliable, affordable, high-speed internet available to the vast majority of households and businesses.

“The uneven nature of the multi-technology mix and the apparent over-use of satellite broadband could exacerbate existing social, economic, and digital inequality,” the Committee explained.

“While the committee is encouraged by the fact that the rollout is ahead of schedule, it has to be noted that the quality, ubiquity, and fairness of the NBN is under question.

“The committee believes that the current design and rollout of the NBN is likely to maintain the ‘digital divide’, which means that particular communities and social groups will not share in the benefits of broadband technology, but will instead find themselves further separated in terms of full social and economic participation in Australian life.”

The report contains 23 recommendations for the Australian Government, including that nbn – the government-owned enterprise tasked with designing, building and operating the NBN – together with retail service providers develop business-grade products specifically for the small business market, including the provision of service guarantees and remedies.

This was in response to concerns, amongst businesses and their representatives, about “the lack of business grade products which would provide service rights and remedies in the business environment”. The committee also stated that it was concerned by the length of time taken to resolve some complaints and get NBN services working properly, especially where this delay has a monetary impact on small businesses: “ Examples cited in Chapter 3 [of the report] show that delays in fault rectification and disruptions to service can have a significant monetary cost to individual customers and small business operators relying on the NBN.”

See also: nbn’s new wholesale pricing model to drive better value for medium & enterprise businesses

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