The Northern Territory government has accused NBN Co and the federal government of short-changing it with the troubled Sky Muster satellite service, curtailing business growth and hobbling remote health plans.
The Labor government blasted the “reliability of the satellite solution” and said NBN Co needed to investigate ways to increase capacity of both the network and of the workforce bringing it to homes and businesses.
“It is unclear whether further satellites are planned to be launched by NBN Co to meet apparent demand,” the government said in a submission (pdf) to the joint standing committee on the NBN.
“There are other technologies available for broadband connectivity, including low orbit satellites, and these technologies need to be investigated by NBN Co.”
The territory government argued that satellite technology generally was poorly suited to service the NT due to its “well-known idiosyncratic nature”, including high latency and propensity for “rain fade and loss of signal” in extreme weather events.
The NT government said it was working to incorporate Sky Muster into distance education delivery.
“The [territory] Department of Education will fully evaluate Sky Muster service performance and will be working to establish a centralised model for education services for distance education sites over the NBN,” it said.
It is more advanced in plans to bring Sky Muster connectivity to 329 remote area nursing accommodations, but said the project may not be completed on time because NBN Co doesn’t have the field resources available for installations.
“To date, NBN satellite services have been installed in 24 RAN [remote area nurse] houses in remote communities,” the NT government said.
“The insufficient availability of NBN Co contractors for installation of satellite equipment in remote communities will impede the efficient and timely rollout of services.
“The Department of Health’s objective to install 329 satellite services across 49 remote communities by 30 September 2017 may be unachievable if NBN Co contractors cannot meet demand.”
Further, the territory government said latency could prevent people from using even “basic consumer grade medical devices for monitoring of medical conditions” at home.
Similarly, the residential grade NBN satellite service is "unlikely to be considered suitable for supporting operational core clinical systems and telehealth services", it argued.
The NT government also claimed that primary producers generally were being “left feeling very isolated and frustrated” by the way broadband was being brought to the bush.
“NBN Co does not deal with end users directly and relies on RSPs to consult with business and residential customers,” the NT government said.
“The result of this distance from the consumer is continual finger-pointing by all concerned during outages or when complaints arise from installation issues.”
It said it wanted to see fixed wireless used instead of satellite in much of the territory, though it had been rebuffed on that front so far.
“The Northern Territory government urges the Australian government and NBN Co to work collaboratively with the Northern Territory government to find an equitable solution that will provide more reliable telecommunications services for territorians living in remote communities,” it said.