NBN update: When are we getting high-speed broadband?

The NBN Company will run fibre optic cables across Australia, giving rural towns the same advantage in broadband speeds as their big city cousins. It's an ambitious and expensive program, seen as revolutionary by its supporters and unnecessary by its detractors.

Recently there has been a flurry of action in Parliament on behalf of the project. Compare Broadband has an update on what happened and what it means for Australians waiting for faster broadband.

Telstra split

In order for the NBN to work, the government has to break Telstra's monopoly in Australia's communications sector. Currently, Telstra owns most of the copper telephone lines in Australia but it is also the biggest retailer of internet and telephone services. This puts it in the position of competing with the companies it is renting is own lines to, a situation which many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) complain is anti-competitive.

This is one of the reasons that rural broadband customers usually have to pay more for a slower service. The Government wants to split the company into a retailer and a wholesaler of telecommunications services. By buying the copper wire from Telstra, the Government also hopes to save billions on building the network, by using existing infrastructure.

In order to split up Telstra, the Government had to pass a Bill. While the Opposition supported a Telstra split, it had some conditions attached, which threatened to delay or even sink the legislation.

What happened?

After a few amendments, the Bill has finally been passed on the last day of Parliament. Independents once again played an important part in the drama, by siding with Labor. However, the government only won this support, particularly from independent senator Nick Xenophon, by releasing a business case for the project.

Business case

The Government made a shorter version of the 400-page business case available to the public, as much of the information is confidential. However, the document did say that the total cost of the NB is now expected to be lower: more like $35 billion than the original projection of $43 billion. This reduction is down to the deal with Telstra to buy the copper wiring.

When is the NBN coming to my home?

The NBN Company is building the network in stages, in order to test the process before attempting a national roll-out. Construction on the First Release Sites has already started, with some customers connected, while construction on Second Release Sites is expected to begin in February 2011. This means mainland trials are set to start in April of next year, with early adopters getting the opportunity to test extra features, such as entertainment packages.

What will it cost?

The entry-level product will offer 12Mbps download speeds and 1Mbps upload speeds at the same price, wherever the customer lives.

The NBN Company has also stated its aim that consumers should pay comparable, if not cheaper, prices for a much faster service. When plans for the NBN are released, they will be highly competitive on today's market, the NBN Company said in its business case.

In some areas, like Point Cook, fibre optic plans are already available. Although these are not the final prices for the NBN, they are already competitive.