Dampened by the federal government’s lacklustre efforts so far to roll out the National Broadband Network to regional parts of the state, the Queensland government is exploring whether it can provide faster and cheaper internet by using spare capacity on publicly-owned fibre networks.
Minister for Innovation Leeanne Enoch said there is “reasonable” capacity on its government-owned fibre networks – such as Ergon and Powerlink – to boost network connectivity in regional Queensland, something she said the NBN is currently failing to do.
“Through their second-rate National Broadband Network rollout, the federal LNP, and in particular Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, are failing to create genuine opportunities for Queenslanders to innovate, compete in global markets, grow their businesses and create jobs,” Ms Enoch said.
“Labor understands that digital infrastructure is as important as roads and rail networks – perhaps even more so – but the LNP don’t seem to recognise this.
“Complaints relating to NBN connection and speed have skyrocketed in the past 12 months. That’s why, wherever possible, the Queensland Government will look to reduce the areas designated for satellite NBN to the far superior fibre service.
“This will go a long way to addressing the second rate internet service that’s being offered to regional Queensland, and will directly combat further issues with the NBN’s Sky Muster satellite.”
The Queensland-owned public network stretches over 4000 kilometres along the east coast of Queensland and through centres including Mackay, Rockhampton, Cairns, Townsville, Toowoomba, Roma, Mt Isa, as well as up north to Port Douglas.
In order to determine the exact amount of spare capacity, the Queensland government will carry out a technical due diligence, but Ms Enoch believes there is enough capacity to support rural and regional towns within the footprint of the network.
“Fibre cables which have been laid by government-owned corporations consist of many individual fibres. In most cases, not all of the individual fibres are currently in use,” she said.
:Even a small number of fibre strands can support high bandwidth.”
“In addition, the beauty of fibre is that we have not yet reached the technical limits of its carrying capacity, so there is the opportunity to grow the bandwidth as technology advances.”
The real win from providing network connectivity, Ms Enoch said, is that it will increase competition and help drive prices for regional Queenslanders.
“What this work will do is help the NBN deliver better services to Queenslanders. The availability of more backhaul capacity will make it easier for NBN retail service providers to purchase backhaul services at a reasonable cost, and it will open up opportunities for smaller ISPs to enter the market,” she said.
“This is expected to result in downward pressure on prices, and will help reduce the digital divide between regional Queensland and our more populated urban areas.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, however, emphasised the NBN is already providing broadband services and connection services in the region – enough to participate in the digital economy.
“The NBN rollout is well advanced in Queensland with over half of the premises in the state currently in ready for service areas, and major centres like Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton already connected,” the spokesperson said.
“The Queensland rollout is set to be around 80 per cent complete by the middle of next year.”
Ms Enoch also announced that a re-elected Palaszczuk government would commit $15 million to fund the Sunshine Coast International Broadband Submarine Cable project that has the potential to link to Asia and the United States.
The state government touted that the proposed submarine cable and associated facilities will deliver a potential economic boost of $453 million to the Sunshine Coast, and $927 million to Queensland.
“This submarine cable will ensure greater digital connectivity here in Queensland, which is essential if we, as a state, are to progress with modern and efficient healthcare, education, transport, water, energy, police, safety and social welfare systems,” Ms Enoch said.
“Digital connectivity is critical for efficient and effective business operations, and will transform things like supply chain management, online transactions, accounting and marketing for Queensland businesses of all sizes.
“The project supports our Advance Queensland vision of powering our state’s small businesses and industry – our innovators, entrepreneurs, startups, small businesses and industry – with the digital infrastructure they need to grow and thrive.
“It will also help not only the Sunshine Coast, but Queensland as a whole, attract more business talent from interstate and overseas – further putting our state on the global map when it comes to innovation.”