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Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11439

National Broadband Network

Dear Mr Vasta

Thank you for your letter of 22 May 2017 regarding the petition (EN0166) proposing the use of fibre optic connections in the fixed line National Broadband Network (the network) footprint to enable sustained telephony services during power outages.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that all Australians have reliable access to emergency assistance when needed. The effectiveness of telecommunications in emergencies is treated seriously, and the Telecommunications Act 1997 ensures that all telecommunications service providers meet certain standards as part of these responsibilities.

However, it is important to note that no form of telecommunications technology can provide 100 per cent resilience during power outages or natural disasters. The copper lines used in the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) provided a fortuitous benefit that allowed for the continued operation of analogue corded telephone services in power outages. However, if the outage affected nearby telecommunications pillars, local telephone exchanges, or the fixed lines from the exchange to a premises, even telephony services over the all-copper network were disrupted.

In addition, irrespective of the network technology used, devices such as cordless telephones, modems and other powered equipment in households will not work in a power outage unless they are connected to an in-premises uninterruptible power supply. The provision of this household backup power is the consumer's responsibility.

The network rollout involves several new technologies and, depending on the technology connected to a premises, there may be different battery backup options available. For this reason, customers are always encouraged to contact their retail broadband and telephony provider to discuss the full details and options available to them. Furthermore, it is strongly recommended that people do not rely solely on telecommunications services in emergencies. A range of information sources should be used in an emergency to stay aware of local conditions.

These information sources may include radio (ideally battery-powered), television, and State or Territory emergency services websites if mobile data services are available in the event of a fixed-line outage.

Finally, mobile phone use is now almost universal, and the vast majority of premises in the network fixed line footprint are in areas that have good access to mobile coverage. All mobile phones in Australia can make calls to Triple Zero, provided they are operational (e.g. have sufficient battery life) and in an area in which mobile coverage is provided by at least one mobile service provider. Special roaming capabilities of the vast majority of mobile phones mean that if a user is out of their own service provider's coverage area when calling Triple Zero, but still within coverage of another carrier's mobile network, their call will be re-routed automatically via the other carrier's network. This means that, even if a mobile phone has no SIM card inserted or call credit (whether pre or post-paid), a user should still be able to make a call for emergency assistance from most locations in Australia.

Yours sincerely

from the Minister for Communication and the Arts, Mr Fifield