SUBJECTS: JSC Report on the NBN


JOURNALIST: Stephen Jones is the Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, he is also a member of [the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network] and joins me now.

Good afternoon.


I never thought that I would be welcoming that sound of the old dial up internet.

JOURNALIST: Well I think there are some people out there who wish they probably had it back. Now Stephen, there was 23 recommendations but one of the biggest is that you don’t think fibre to the end of the street or to the node is good enough. Why not?

JONES: Because we have been gathering evidence over the last 12 months from households, small businesses, people who have been involved in the rollout of the NBN and people who have been doing it in other countries; and what is pretty clear to us is that a majority of the problems being encountered are in two areas – one, is the fibre to the node, copper to the household area of the network and then a whole bunch of problems in the satellite area as well.

One of them we can fix and that is by upgrading the technology. Relying on the old copper network might have seemed like a good idea to Malcolm Turnbull but it’s going to end up costing more money and it’s going to have to be dug up and replaced at some stage in the near future. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the last couple of years.

JOURNALIST: If more people get FTTP, they might get faster internet but would the cost be more? Possibly more than double and can we afford that?

JONES: Look, really good question and two reasons why the answer to that is no. Firstly, the NBN itself has demonstrated that as they do more and more of this stuff, they get better at it. Therefore the costs come down and the cost difference for FTTC is negligible to the copper-based rollout. So that’s one reason.

A second reason is that if you are getting more problems, more maintenance and more repairs needed in the copper part of the network then it is costing you more over the medium term. You are better off doing it right the first time and saving yourself all of that maintenance cost and that’s what we are discovering. That’s before you even look at the costs to business and households through downtime and service interruptions.

JOURNALIST: The report says there are significant inadequacies in resolving customer complaints. Why is that; and do you have suggestions on how to fix that?

JONES: We absolutely do. We had people giving evidence – they call it the NBN “ping pong.” 

That’s the one where your service has gone down and you ring your phone company and they say well we’ve fixed it from our end and the problem is with the NBN. You ring the NBN and they say sorry we can’t deal with you directly – go back to the phone company. And this can happen daily. People are pulling their hair out over it.

We suggest a couple of things that will fix this; firstly, at the installation phase the NBN should have a much more active role. That is, that they don’t leave the house, they don’t leave the small business, until its confirmed that the service is connected. That the emails are following, the phones are working and the internet is up and running. That solves a lot of the problems.

The second thing is when things do go pear-shaped, there should be a proper system for dealing with complaints and a set of rights for customers if they can’t get their issues resolved.

We’ve got this thing called the Universal Service Obligation and the customer service guarantee – it was designed last century for the phone system and it needs to be updated for this century, for broadband; and that job hasn’t been done. We say it should be a number one priority for the Government.

JOURNALIST: Stephen, this Committee went all over Australia and you were talking to businesses and members of the public. What did they tell you in terms of speeds that were marketed to them and the speeds that they actually got?

JONES: This has been a big issue that I have been championing. Phone companies have been selling products that they simply cannot deliver. 

If a baker was selling a load of bread but there is only 11 thin slices in there then we would have a name for that – deceptive and misleading conduct. Why is it any different in the internet space?

And yet it has been happening.

So we have been calling for a new set of rules that require the NBN to declare to the phone company if there are problems with the lines, problems with the network which means that they cannot deliver any of the standard products and then the phone company must declare that to the customer before they sign up. That gets you around the problem where you think, I’m a gamer or I’ve got high needs in my small business and I want the 50Mbps product; and the phone company sells it to you in the full knowledge that, where you are in the network or because of the way they are provisioning the network, that can’t be delivered.

We’ve got to knock that on the head. That can be done overnight, we don’t have to wait for any changes in the system to stop that sort of behaviour.

JOURNA\LIST: In about the 30 seconds that I have left, just a quick question – the Government actually doesn’t agree with you. The Liberal members - Government members - of the Committee did a dissenting report so I guess that there are no guarantees that the changes you recommend will actually happen?

JONES: I’m hoping over the long weekend that we have here in the eastern States that they think about this. These are 23 hard-hitting recommendations to get the project back on track.

I would be happy if the Government took them up and said we are going to do this.

If they don’t, I’m certain that Labor will take it up. It’s not just Labor, it was all the crossbenchers, One Nation and the Greens on the same page. That doesn’t happen everyday and you would think the Government would sit up and listen. 

JOURNALIST: No that is rare. Thanks for your time Stephen Jones.