Revealed: The councils to taste-test the NBN

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Revealed: The councils to taste-test the NBN

Who lobbied who?

Local councils chosen as testbeds for the NBN were pleasantly surprised to find some of their ratepayers would be high-speed broadband guinea pigs for NBN Co, believing it would bring economic prosperity to their regions.

At least three of the local councils - Kiama Municipal Council, Armidale Dumaresq and Onkaparinga City - only found out they were NBN test sites when the announcement was made on Monday.

Two of the councils spoken to by iTnews had engaged some level of lobbying effort in a bid to appear more attractive to NBN Co.

But it was unclear whether this had any impact on the decision, in part due to timing and also NBN Co chief Mike Quigley's comments on Monday that the decisions on test sites were made by engineers analysing the geocoded national address file, an index of all physical addresses in Australia.

Onkaparinga City made a submission to NBN Co only last Friday.

"We'd been aware that the NBN was preparing an implementation plan," the council's group manager for economic development Brian Hales said.

"We were aware of the potential rollout [plan] and wanted to position ourselves to make it as easy as possible to roll out the NBN in this region so we could be the first cab off the rank, or close to it.

"The fact that it was announced as early as this came as a bit of a surprise but a very pleasant one."

Armidale Dumaresq Council's lobbying efforts were more concerted.

"Council has been working with the local Federal member Tony Windsor," the council's tourism, marketing and economic development manager Kevin Abey said.

"We agreed last year to assist him to champion this region with Senator Conroy's office to actually look at putting this region as a priority for the NBN rollout.

"We're very much supportive and pleased [part of] Armidale city has been selected."

Only one council to benefit from the NBN Co test network could not be reached for comment.

All councils iTnews spoke to were keen to see the trials extended to the rest of their residents as soon as possible.

Kiama rollout

The local government representatives provided the first glimpse of the types of housing that NBN Co engineers will encounter when they start building the test networks later this year.

The test site covering Kiama Downs and Minnamurra on the NSW south coast was predominately residential with "two small supermarket/retail areas", according to Kiama Municipal Council's director of strategic and commercial services Chris Quigley.

He said the area's residents included a number of professionals who worked from home and commuted to Sydney occasionally.

Although broadband was available "just about everywhere" in the council area, Quigley said he did "hear [professionals] have some difficulty with the bandwidth available."

"I'm sure they'll be quick to take advantage of the extra bandwidth," he said.

Council would also be able to test the network since it had a waste facility within the test area, which also conducted some administration work. "Obviously we'll be looking to get hold of the NBN there," he said. "I imagine we'll give it a try."

The test area represented almost a third of ratepayers within the council area.

Willunga test site

Willunga - part of the Onkaparinga City Council area in South Australia - was the smallest of the NBN test sites, although the network would cover the entire township.

Its residents included winemakers and organic food producers. The town had a range of houses "from late 1800s residences to quite modern housing", according to Hales.

Like Kiama Municipal Council, Onkaparinga would be able to test the NBN for itself as well. The council had a regional office and library facility in the town.

But unlike Kiama, broadband was almost non-existent in the region.

"It's poor," Hales said. "We would have one of the largest percentages of ADSL2+ blackspots and there are quite a few areas that don't have it at all. In the southern area in particular we are very poorly serviced."

The test network would reach about five percent of Onkaparinga's ratepayers.

University coverage

The Armidale NBN test network in regional NSW covered an area west of the city, including the University of New England.

"The University takes a large chunk [of the connected area] but there are also a number of flats for off-campus students," Abey said.

"There's also some public housing areas as well which is very encouraging as well as some rural-residential areas."

Abey said rural-residential properties were in-demand from so-called ‘tree-changers' moving out of Sydney and other city areas to a new life in the country.

A "couple" of schools were also located in the NBN test area and would likely benefit from the fibre network.

The Armidale-Dumaresq and Uralla Shire areas already had some fibre infrastructure courtesy of the New England Smart Communities Action Project (NESCAP), which began in 2001.

That brought "broadband infrastructure and price competition" to the region but Abey - who managed the project - said attracting alternative retail service providers had proven a challenge.

Broadband coverage could be better. "What we're experiencing now is a significant lack of ADSL ports within sectors of the CBD and township and ADSL2+ lacking in various areas," Abey said.

"For example, I live 3.5 kilometres from the CBD but can't get ADSL2+. And just in one of my [council] offices we experience a substantial slowdown in services just around 3.30pm [when school is out] so there's contention.

"Whilst we have those services I'd argue they're not currently up to scratch," he said.

Brunswick NBN

Moreland City Council - which included the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick - was pleased to take part in the trial and was scheduling briefings with NBN Co "in coming weeks".

"Brunswick has been chosen as it represents a typical inner city suburb undergoing great change," Mayor Cr Stella Kariofyllidis said in a statement.

She believed it would be good not just for residents but for the development of "IT service industries and specialist enterprises, such as architectural firms and graphic designers" in the area.

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