High-speed internet not for all

Alfredo Bonanno, from Billen Cliffs, is frustrated at having to run his home-based business with sub-standard communications technology.

Telephones, internet and even television services out at Billen Cliffs near Larnook are pretty well below par compared to the same services in nearby Lismore just ask local resident Alfredo Bonanno.

Mr Bonanno, who operates a web-design business, and some fellow neighbours have been campaigning for the best part of five years to bring those services up to scratch, lobbying local politicians, organising petitions and meeting with Telstra Countrywide management all as yet to no avail, it seems.

And he has an ally in his quest, with the state government calling for submissions to an inquiry into the telecommunications needs of rural communities, including broadband.

The Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Broadband in Rural and Regional Communities, set up last year, says it doesnt doubt that large parts of regional NSW do not have access to broadband, at the same speeds and for the same price, as people in the city.

Mr Bonanno said people working outside the major centres should not have to travel to the city to run their business or to access quality telecommunications services.

Were stuck here with last centurys technology yet we pay the same rates and taxes as everybody else in Australia as a result, were losing opportunities and revenue, Mr Bonanno said.

Like many rural residents, Mr Bonannos local telephone exchange is not enabled for high-speed broadband internet, which is increasingly being used throughout metropolitan Australia, especially in business, and he uses wireless internet, which is not as fast.

Mr Bonanno said residents believed two years ago that their local exchange would soon be upgraded to enable ADSL (fixed landline) broadband access but they were still waiting.

Last month, Telstra announced that more Australian homes and small business would soon have access to high-speed broadband with the activation of the faster ADSL2+ at hundreds of exchanges throughout the country.

But Telstras regional manager Sue Passmore said the Cawongla exchange, serving the Billen Cliffs area, was now not on that list of exchanges to be upgraded.

It was planned but Telstra did not succeed in its tender for government funding of just under $1 billion (for a regional wireless network, which the Singtel-Optus-Elders consortium won), Ms Passmore said. So what have they done with the $1 billion of taxpayers money? Here we are, nine months on, and nothing has happened their claims about the network and speed arent there and dont stack up.

This is what the Cawonglas of this world should be asking the politicians: what have they done with the money?

Mr Bonanno said ADSL technology was already in place in the local area after the NSW Education Department installed fibre-optic cables to Barkers Vale and Larnook Public School several years ago but Ms Passmore said that was a private venture that the department had paid for.

She said terrain and infrastructure restricted broadband access and quality with a variety of ways in which it was delivered such as the old copper landlines, satellite and the much faster fibre-optic cable.

The standing committee earlier this month tabled a discussion paper entitled Issues for Further Investigation, a copy of which may be found at www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/broadband.

It says there are huge economic benefits to technology such as broadband as a means of operating businesses and delivering government services efficiently.

The committee has received much information about federal and state programs to improve access to broadband services and would welcome further information on this topic.

Chairman Philip Costa said the committee was particularly interested in further case studies of how broadband could help rural and regional communities and businesses.

It would also appreciate suggestions on ways to avoid the consequences of inadequate broadband services in the future, Mr Costa said.

Other key issues the committee would like further information on are: strategies for addressing the lack of availability of services in certain areas including the choice of technology; the appropriate role for state government in promoting and increasing the use of broadband; state and local government planning in delivery of broadband services in particular areas; the importance of broadband services for education, health and business activities and to retain regional and rural population levels; and the actual level of service required in the future to maximise the benefits to these communities.

Submissions, which close on Friday, April 30, should be addressed to: Standing Committee on Broadband in Rural and Regional Communities, Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000, Attention: Ms Vicki Buchbach. Or faxed to 9230 3309 or emailed to broadband@parliament.nsw.gov.au. For further information phone Ms Buchbach (committee manager) on 9230 3438.

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