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$480m promised for comms towers upgrade and St Albans makes ‘eligible’ list for fibre to the home

Mar 22, 2022


A big announcement today by Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on peri-urban areas – that’s how the Hawkesbury is referred to – having access to higher speeds on NBN fixed wireless services or greater data limits on Sky Muster satellite services.


It’s a two and a half year program, NBN Co tells us, so don’t expect instant changes.


On the same day as the $480 million Federal government announcement, NBN itself revealed the additional suburbs which will get the opportunity – at extra cost – to get their NBN fibre to the actual premises, though the only Hawkesbury suburb mentioned for that in today’s list is St Albans.


NBN says the list of “eligible premises announced today are located in parts of the following suburbs and towns”, and includes St Albans.


There is no firm date for the actual connection but NBN Co is spending $4.5 billion with the aim of getting 8 million premises across Australia ‘eligible’ by the end of 2023 for fast fibre to the home.


North Richmond was added to the eligible list in May 2021 for the faster, more efficient, optional fibre to the premises.


It leaves large areas of the Hawkesbury still without the fastest NBN fibre to the premises, though the intention is to roll it out at extra cost to all homes eventually.


When the NBN system was first announced, fibre to the premises, or to the home, was the default option.


Today’s government announcement points to an upgrade to extend the coverage range from telecomms towers, and is separate from the FTTP rollout announcement.


Minister Fletcher said his government’s announcement recognised “the importance of investing in critical infrastructure such as the NBN to meet the demands of our growing economy and help Australia reach our goal of becoming a top 10 data and digital economy by 2030”.


“By using the latest 4G and 5G wireless technology, this upgrade will extend the coverage range from a tower, and allow higher speed services to everyone served by the tower,” said the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts.


“This means more people can be served by NBN fixed wireless; it means higher speed services on the NBN fixed wireless network; and it means higher amounts of data can be used by households and business customers.”


Certainly, in theory, the upgrade announced today should see some benefits for those currently using the satellite-based Sky Muster system for their communications, though the Minister didn’t mention how many in the Hawkesbury use Sky Muster, which utilises one of two available NBN satellites in areas where there is no fixed fibre.


“The upgrade will expand the fixed wireless footprint coverage by up to 50 per cent, enabling 120,000 additional premises to access fixed wireless services instead of Sky Muster satellite services,” Minister Fletcher said.


That 120,000 number is across NSW.


The total cost of the network upgrade is $750 million, with the remaining $270 million being contributed by NBN Co out of its own funds.


Macquarie MP Susan Templeman says it is not immediately clear how this latest tranche of money – it will be officially announced in the upcoming Federal Budget – will benefit the Hawkesbury specifically.


Ms Templeman, who has long campaigned for better communications across the Hawkesbury, said of Minister Fletcher’s statement, “any belated improvement to Hawkesbury NBN is obviously welcome, but it’s not clear exactly what the local benefit will be.”

“The main thing people want to see is expanded fibre and better mobile service, but they also want telecommunications that are more robust given the natural disasters we face.

“During the floods, wireless towers failed and left people without any communications because they’re not built to withstand the conditions.

“I want to see a more robust telecommunications service as well as improved speeds, and that still means we need much more fibre in the system.”


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