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Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network
17/07/2017
Rollout of the National Broadband Network

KIRKWOOD, Miss Lara, Vice President, Community of Aubin Grove

[11:42]

ACTING CHAIR: I now welcome Miss Lara Kirkwood from the Community of Aubin Grove. Miss Kirkwood, you are very welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I invite you to make a brief opening statement, and we will then proceed to ask some questions. Obviously you should feel relaxed and welcome. We have a whole range of different witnesses. Some of the most important witnesses we have are members of the community. Sometimes we have people from universities or from businesses who talk about their own technical interests. It's very important that we actually hear from the lived experience of people in communities right around Australia, so hearing the kinds of things that you and your fellow community members face—wanting broadband access and in some cases having it and in some cases not having it—and how that impacts on you is really valuable for us. So please feel relaxed and tell us your story.

Miss Kirkwood : Thank you, Acting Chair and committee members for your time this morning. I bought my first block of land back in 2010 in Aubin Grove, and I built my first home and I moved in in 2011. The last thing you think about when building your first home is whether you are going to be able to access internet. You take these things for granted, a bit like electricity and water. I found that it was kind of a necessity in a First World country to be able to access the internet. I was moving into a well-established suburb and, fairly, thought that there would be internet in my street.

Two weeks after moving in, I contacted three telecommunications companies, only to find out that there were no ports available in my street, in my area, and that I would have to go on a waiting list. I didn't understand why this was the case, and there's no explanation as to why in a new suburb and a brand new estate there are no ports available for internet. Seventy homes have been built in my street. And out of my strata complex alone, out of 14 units, only four could access the internet via a telephone line. This has resulted in my having to take up a dongle for $30 a month for four gigabytes. I gave up phoning and checking in with Telstra for an internet connection until I wanted to study this year—6½ years later, and I could no longer survive with this terrible infrastructure, which would connect only half the time, and there was a poor to non-existent signal.

I contacted Telstra on 27 January this year to request an ADSL line and was told that the soonest I would receive one would be 2020, when NBN is going through. I started to call them every single week, and I took numerous steps, including writing to local and federal ministers to bring this to their awareness, and NBN Co. In April this year I was finally provided with a port from Telstra, and ADSL could be installed. There are other residents in my suburb of Aubin Grove who have no internet. There are others who are on wireless who are having their services switched off and are being forced to look for other services or wait for NBN. For home business, this is a nightmare and an unrealistic way to run a business. I personally had given up wanting such luxuries as Netflix. I didn't even actually know what it was until this year, because I had no way of even accessing it. General web searching was a nightmare, and applying for jobs.

I run a local community chat group of 21,000 members. For the past three years I have run this and managed it off my mobile phone data, as I couldn't rely on my dongle to connect to the internet. These are some of the comments from residents I have previously been in touch with in regard to gaining internet access. A couple of them are considering moving out of the suburb because of the lack of internet connections. Jen van Dongen: 'I am currently with Vividwireless and the network will be shut down next month. I'm in the area that cannot get ADSL connection, so I sought to wait until NBN comes out.' Fran Lang: 'We got told by Telstra that there are no ports available and won't be able to connect until NBN is done.' Steve Greenwood: 'When I started my business, Let's Talk Finance, up in 2014, an internet provider was a critical part of the start-up. Unfortunately I was initially told that I would be unable to get ADSL to my premises and was put on a waiting list. I had to source a wireless option, Vividwireless, and had to pay for additional software to ensure that private information was secure. I have not got ADSL to my premises, but it is still unsatisfactory due to consistent poor service and dropouts.' There are many more stories like these from residents.

To conclude, the wait for NBN in Aubin Grove is still set for 'planned' availability in January 2018. Although this is much improvement from 2020, it is still a wait for residents who have nothing. We are apparently getting fibre to the node. The NBN needs to be rolled out first to suburbs that have absolutely nothing or few services available to them. All future developments need to provide the infrastructure to prevent these issues from happening again in the future. The residents of Aubin Grove and surrounding suburbs hope there will be no future delays to the NBN rollout, especially to them. And they hope the quality of the product is what is promised, as there are many concerns from residents hearing other stories that the NBN rollout will be a nightmare. I thank you for your time this morning.

Senator URQUHART: Could you just explain where Aubin Grove is? Is it somewhere out near Laverton or somewhere?

Miss Kirkwood : No, it is actually part of the city of Cockburn. It's probably about a 10-minute drive from Cockburn train station.

Senator URQUHART: Which is how far from where we are here in Perth today?

Miss Kirkwood : It is a 25-minute drive.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Aubin Grove is a suburb in the south-east of my electorate of Fremantle—hardly a regional or rural seat. It is in the city of Cockburn, which is one of the fastest-growing municipalities not just in Western Australia but in the country. It's right by the freeway. It's right by a train station. It's a new suburb in a very vibrant part of the community. Miss Kirkwood, you've given in your opening testimony some examples of other members of your community who've faced these frustrations. You talked about people having difficulty completing job applications. I wonder if there is any other information you can give us about the kinds of things that are raised through your community group to do with education both for adults and for children, with health or with small-business opportunities that people are finding hard to take up. As you described, you live in a community where there is essentially, for many people, no line internet.

Miss Kirkwood : I can talk about my educational experience. I decided to study online this year. Up until getting ADSL, I couldn't actually connect up to do online videos that I was required to do as part of my study, so I had to put that on hold until ADSL came through. I know of other people who run home businesses in the community, and they are struggling just to get general information and emails sent. We can't use certain things like Microsoft Aware, where you can share data between companies. That's a bit of an issue for a lot of people. Everyday, general connecting to the internet and web searching is an issue when you've got wireless or a dongle, because you're using 4G networks. If there are not enough towers in the area, that's another issue. You can't just generally log on to check your email; you actually get better service if you go and stand outside on your mobile phone.

ACTING CHAIR: You talked before about some people considering whether they can remain living in that community. Has that become part of the way those living there or those thinking of living there assess the neighbourhood? Have you heard of any occasions where people are essentially looking at their home real estate options in terms of whether or not they're going to have, as you described earlier, what people would expect of internet access in a developed country?

Miss Kirkwood : When people are looking to move into the area, they might ask for people's opinions and want to know if there is internet. As soon as they hear that you cannot get internet access, a lot of people say, 'then I'd rather go to a suburb that does have it.' Though it's not just about home business; it's about everyday living for some people. Some people want to be able to access Netflix or game online. So, yes, it is a concern for them, so real estate agents are now finding that they can't actually sell the houses because they don't have internet.

ACTING CHAIR: Are there other committee members who would like to ask questions?

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: I would just like to say thank you for your opening testimony. It was very detailed.

Senator SMITH: When did you move into Aubin Grove?

Miss Kirkwood : I moved in in 2011.

Senator SMITH: So that was prior to the NBN?

Miss Kirkwood : Of course.

Senator SMITH: What attracted you to Aubin Grove, and were you or were you not aware that broadband was available?

Miss Kirkwood : I wasn't aware of broadband being available. I was aware that you could get a Telstra ADSL line. What attracted me to Aubin Grove was that my family moved to Wandi, which is a rural part, and I wanted to be closer to my family. Also, Aubin Grove is an amazing suburb with the best school in the state.

Senator SMITH: Yes. I'm familiar with Aubin Grove. So you bought a property?

Miss Kirkwood : I bought land to build a home—

Senator SMITH: in 2011, and you assumed that there would be broadband access.

Miss Kirkwood : Yes.

Senator SMITH: And then, when you inquired about broadband access, Telstra said that you would have to use the dongle device, or did Telstra say that you'd have an ADSL service?

Miss Kirkwood : No, they said that there were no ports available to get internet.

Senator SMITH: Okay. When was that approach made to Telstra?

Miss Kirkwood : That was made in 2011 and then remade in December 2016 and January 2017.

Senator SMITH: I am getting your opening statement, but am I correct in understanding that primarily this is an issue with regard to Telstra access or the lack of access to broadband?

Miss Kirkwood : It was a lack of any telecommunications company being able to give you a port.

Senator SMITH: With regard to the NBN specifically, when the NBN was first announced, what was your understanding of when there would be NBN access in your particular part of Western Australia?

Miss Kirkwood : It wasn't going to be available until 2020.

Senator SMITH: And now you're being advised that it's going to be available in 2018.

Miss Kirkwood : That's correct.

Senator SMITH: And that is fibre-to-the-premise access?

Miss Kirkwood : Fibre to the node.

ACTING CHAIR: I'm not trying to interrupt and am happy to come back to you. It's just that you're now asking questions that Miss Kirkwood has thoroughly covered in the statement. Perhaps I will turn to Senator Urquhart and then come back to you.

Senator URQUHART: Thanks for your evidence. At this stage did you attempt to seek a resolution through the industry ombudsman or the ACCC, or have you continually gone to Telstra or whatever RSP?

Miss Kirkwood : No, I actually wrote to local and federal ministers to get assistance and have since also spoken with NBN Co. about this. That is when we were advised that work orders had been put in for April and that work was going to commence for Aubin Grove.

Senator URQUHART: Right. Was the NBN person you spoke to a representative from NBN Co. for Western Australia? I assume they have one.

Miss Kirkwood : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: So that has been settled.

Miss Kirkwood : That's correct.

Senator URQUHART: You said you had to put your studying on hold. Did you mean the entire process of your education or just one particular—

Miss Kirkwood : Certain aspects.

Senator URQUHART: Given that Aubin Grove is a new suburb and it sounds like there is a lot of new housing, I would assume—and please correct me if I'm wrong—that it's probably full of young families, people with young children who are growing up and possibly would be looking for education. A lot of education is now done online. Would that be a reasonable statement?

Miss Kirkwood : That is correct, yes.

Senator URQUHART: Have other families that you have dealt with been hampered in their educational initiatives by not having access or getting answers?

Miss Kirkwood : I have to be honest and say I haven't spoken to older students who have suffered. We mainly have a very young demographic—primary school children. Their main thing is not necessarily education but just being able to generally access the internet.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, because kids today have iPads and all sorts of things that we never dreamed of when I was going to school. That is obviously something that'll be picked up in the future. So the issue that you have now is that you will be connected in 2018?

Miss Kirkwood : I hope so.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know what that connection will be?

Miss Kirkwood : I believe that will be fibre to the node using the original infrastructure. I did notice this week that there was the NBN truck in my street and work had obviously commenced.

Senator URQUHART: I'm not sure having an NBN truck in your street is a very reliable indication.

Senator SMITH: It's a very reliable indication, actually. I've been to many NBN trucks that have turned on the NBN. I'm happy to come and stand next to the truck with you, Miss Kirkwood!

Senator URQUHART: I have also been to NBN trucks and not been able to be provided with any information. Up the street where I live in Tasmania, I've had an NBN pit for two years with the thing hooked up on the pole, so I'm not sure what the time frame is. But I hope that you get your NBN sooner rather than later and I hope it does what you need it to do not only for yourself but for your community. Thanks very much for coming along today.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: Without wanting to rain on Senator Smith's parade, I think his initial questioning was really about the fact that this is about the rollout of the NBN, and he was forensically trying to get to the point that your initial problems were with Telstra, not necessarily with the NBN rollout itself. Did Telstra ever explain to you why a port was not made available to you when you moved in? Did they ever suggest to you, for example, that it was because they were waiting for the NBN to come and therefore weren't making more ports available to what is an incredibly fast-growing suburb? I don't know how fast it's growing down there in the southern suburbs of Cockburn, but it just beggars belief that Telstra would not have ports available for it. Was it ever explained to you why that was the case?

Miss Kirkwood : It was eventually explained that there were not enough ports put in due to lack of infrastructure in that area. They just never put enough in. I don't know if that comes down to Telstra or to the government at the time. I am unaware. But I do know that there were just not enough ports to cope with the capacity of the region.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: By way of explanation, Chair: in one of the suburbs in my electorate of Lyons—Brighton, a similarly fast-growing suburb—Telstra told people they weren't putting more ports in, because the NBN was 'on its way' and therefore they didn't want to invest in technology that would be a dead loss to them sooner rather than later. Through excellent advocacy from their local member, Telstra did put supports in, which was good news to some of the people in my electorate. You've got a similarly great member here, so no doubt you're getting your rollout faster than you should have.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Mitchell; you'll be getting extra morning tea! The interesting issue when I first met with Miss Kirkwood and the Aubin Grove community is partly about timing and relative equities. As in many metropolitan areas, we have had areas like South Perth and Mount Pleasant that are established suburbs much closer to the city, services and all of these other things. They went from having existing, good-quality ADSL2+ services to actual fibre to the premise in very quick time, whereas areas that are a little bit further away—outer metro areas, fast-growing areas—have essentially had nothing. It does seem sometimes as if it depends on who your local member is, which is not how infrastructure should be rolled out. But I come back to Senator Smith.

Senator SMITH: I understand that NBN construction began in Aubin Grove in June and will take five to six months, so that January 2018 deadline looks like it will be fulfilled. But I understand your hesitation, having participated in the switch-on of the NBN in Perth's eastern suburbs. I'd be delighted to join you and members of your local residents groups—no doubt with Mr Wilson—when the project is completed.

An underlying theme in this national broadband network debate has always been the trade-off between speed of connection and type of technology. The facts are that a fibre-to-the-premise rollout takes longer than a fibre-to-the-node rollout. In a perfect world, if someone said you could have fibre to the premise but it would take longer to deliver—and part of that length is the complication is takes—or have it sooner but have fibre to the node with a possible upgrade path at a future time, what do you think the general attitude of your community is? It's not a trick question, but I think even Mr Wilson would agree this is an underlying tension in the national broadband network discussion that we've been having for many years.

Miss Kirkwood : Hopefully, most of the residents don't dislike my answer. Ideally, I think they would like it done properly the first time, so they would be more than happy to wait if the service was at its best. They don't want a service to be rolled out that's going to have issues, where they cannot connect to their home line and it's worse than ADSL. That's not going to achieve anything, even though there are still lots of people with absolutely no internet.

Senator SMITH: So you think that local residents would prefer to wait?

Miss Kirkwood : It depends on how long we're talking about waiting.

Senator SMITH: What would be an acceptable length of time to wait?

Miss Kirkwood : We've only been waiting 6½ years!

Senator SMITH: Miss Kirkwood, in all seriousness, if at your next meeting you want to test that with residents, I would be very interested in what they have to say. It is a very real tension when people previously designed a project using different types of technology choice, or using a technology, and others have decided to design a project using a multiple range of technologies, which—and this is an argument that I support—provides access to faster broadband than they currently have and in a more acceptable time frame.

Miss Kirkwood : I would be more than happy to go back to residents and ask that question of them.

Senator SMITH: I would be delighted to come and meet you and them.

Miss Kirkwood : Wonderful.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL: The caveat being that the people who have fibre to the premises got it much earlier, so that logic doesn't really hold.

Senator O'NEILL: I do not have many questions. This is one of the things that concerns me. I've referred a few times to Western Australia today and access to education. You very much articulated where the failure points of this rollout have impacted on people's capacity to engage in education. Access to health is an ongoing problem. One of the issues that I think is really starting to exercise the minds of Australians is the impact of this multitechnology mix, which Mr Turnbull was the driver of, on the property value of their biggest asset, which is their home. What are your concerns about the reality of people choosing not to invest in your suburb and in your homes for sale in that area because the technology is simply too concerning? This is happening where I live as well and I'm very interested in whether it's a live conversation that's happening in your community.

Miss Kirkwood : It is a constant conversation that is happening, as I say, through social media and through community chat groups. This is a question that comes up when people ask, 'Shall I move into that suburb?' People will honestly come forward and say, 'There's no internet.' If you can live without it, that's great, but I think that it's really important that we have this discussion because it is a worry for a lot of people that there is no internet when they're choosing their home, even if it's to lease.

Senator O'NEILL: It's very interesting. I know a few young people locally who have just gone through the exercise of deciding to rent in a share house. I live at the beach. There are beautiful beachside suburbs and I thought that they would have enough money between them to be able to rent a wonderful beachside property. They chose not to do that because they wanted to make sure they leased a property where they had the 'real NBN', as they call it—fibre to the premises—because they are young, active and very much engaged with the internet. That is starting to have an impact, according to some of our local real estate agents, on the value of different properties and the amount that they can charge for people who are trying to lease their properties. Is there any material impact in leasing and the value of properties in your area, Miss Kirkwood?

Miss Kirkwood : I don't know about the value as such, but, for example, I tried to lease out a room in my home last year and the few people that came and looked asked if there was wi-fi or internet access and I had to say no because I didn't have it. I said, 'You'd have to bring your own dongle along to provide yourself with internet.' They said, 'I might as well go down the road to the next suburb where I can get ADSL, or internet.'

Senator O'NEILL: How did that impact on you, Miss Kirkwood?

Miss Kirkwood : I couldn't rent out my room to most people because they wanted internet access to study.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: Have you been able to rent out your room now?

Miss Kirkwood : No. I haven't looked.

Senator O'NEILL: It takes too much time to try to find somebody who wants to live an internet-free life.

ACTING CHAIR: It's always awkward to have to tell someone to bring their own dongle! Miss Kirkwood, thank you very much for making time during a workday to give your evidence to us. We appreciate it and it has been very useful for us. Thank you.

Miss Kirkwood : Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 12:09 to 13:03