In 1879 the telephone came to Australia. The first commercial telephone exchange began operating in New South Wales in 1881, set up in Sydney by a private company2. At that stage there were only enough subscribers to fill a single page. Telephonists were known as “hello girls” and telephone exchanges were revered as “palaces of winged words”. Its impact over the past century has been immeasurable.
Later this month, the first parts of the existing nationwide telecommunications network that has built up over the years are scheduled to be switched off*. This means families and businesses in Kiama will be among the first in Australia to switch over to the National Broadband Network (NBN).
The NBN is an upgrade to Australia’s existing telecommunications network which is designed to help us to cope with our ever-growing hunger for online video, images and data – needs that may not be met by existing mobile services alone. Switching over homes and businesses from the existing copper network to the NBN in the fixed-line footprint is also part of our legislated agreement with Telstra. A decision has been made that it wouldn’t make sense nor would it be economically viable to keep open the existing copper network operating for only a few homes and business after the NBN has been built.
Ensuring all Australians can access fast and reliable broadband is anticipated to further the digital economy, the value of which now rivals iron ore exports – some $50 billion a year, according to Deloitte. It is also intended to help close the digital divide – between old and young, the city and the bush, and, crucially, Australia and other countries.
Delivering the NBN has been another matter entirely. Strong demand for the NBN once it becomes available in an area means it can take several months to get a connection. Repeat visits by technicians are sometimes required to install the NBN equipment; sometimes because more than a standard connection is required.
That’s led to understandable frustration among the home and business owners who have been affected. So we’re taking steps to address these concerns.
For instance, customers in the areas that are scheduled to have most of their landline phone, ADSL internet and Telstra cable internet services disconnected from 23 May 2014 are now prioritized in the queue.*
And if you don’t have the NBN yet, your existing landline phone services will keep working until the NBN equipment is installed – provided you place your order before 23 May 2014.
We’ve also been working closely with banks, business and alarm companies to ensure that their EFTPOS machines, faxes and medical alarms are capable of working over the NBN.
More widely, we’re making changes to the way we build the network so more people can receive fast broadband sooner.
The NBN is the first upgrade to the nation’s fixed-line telecommunications system in over 100 years. The hurdles being faced by customers show just how difficult a task this is. As we move towards the pointy-end of the first switchover process, the company and its construction and service partners will continue to work hard to minimise disruption in your area and improve the way we work.
In the meantime, we want to ensure no one is left behind – please check with your neighbours, family and friends to ensure they have the information needed to switch to the NBN or make a decision on alternative services ahead of the scheduled disconnection from 23 May 2014.*
For more information you can visit www.nbnco.com.au/switch
* Services not replaced by the NBN include some TransACT, OptiComm, some Telstra Velocity services and others. For a full list please visit www.nbnco.com.au/switchoff or call us on 1800 687 626. Optus cable internet may be switched off on a different date and existing customers will be advised separately.
John Simon is Chief Customer Officer at NBN Co