RURAL people struggling with snail-like satellite internet speeds received some welcome news this week when federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced plans to spend $18.4 million on increasing the current capacity on the Interim Satellite Service (ISS).
The federal government is also working on additional measures to provide new services so that up to 9000 potential users currently unable to access the internet, will be able to do so.
The announcement in Question Time on Tuesday is in response to calls for urgent solutions by angry bush customers either unable to access a new service thanks to the current satellite being at capacity, or experiencing drastic slowdowns in upload and download speeds.
According to LNP Member for Maranoa Bruce Scott, his huge electorate, which represents 42 per cent of Queensland’s landmass, is set to benefit by the ISS announcement and is an announcement he has fought for.
Mr Scott said that the government would institute a new, stringent fair use policy to ensure a minority of very heavy users cannot crowd out the majority, as well as spending $18.4m to enable the NBN Co to upgrade the current capacity to all users on the satellite service by one-third.
Mr Turnbull said the NBN Co's trials of these changes had demonstrated that even in busy periods “families will be able to answer emails, surf the web, do their banking and see their kids complete their homework”.
“It will not be as fast as the speeds promised but never delivered by Labor, but it will be broadband and much higher and certainly not anywhere near the anaemic dial-up speeds experienced at present,” he said.
The ISS reached its capacity of 48,000 subscribers late in December last year and its replacement, the Long Term Satellite Service is not scheduled to begin operations until 2015, leaving new internet subscribers in the bush stranded with few options.
In addition, internet speeds experienced by people who do have a service have been described as almost unusable.
One of these users is retired rural telecommunications advocate Lindsay MacDonald, Blackall, who welcomed the timeliness of Mr Turnbull’s response on Tuesday.
“He’s responded with some timely initiative, but I see there’s no timeframe given,” she said.
Elements of the new initiative include:
- $18.4 million to increase capacity for existing users on the ISS.
- Increased capacity per user by a third, from 30 kilobits per second to 40 kilobits per second.
- In busy periods, users are experiencing speeds of below 500 kilobits per second. The new arrangements have been trialled and are delivering broadband speeds of above 1.5mbps in busy times.
- Users will be able to conduct important services over the Internet including banking, emails and Skype, in busy hours.
A new ‘fair use’ policy will enable NBN to better police usage. This will include:
- A monitoring tool to see how much capacity each retailer is using, so they can’t game each other;
- Enhanced reporting to identify very high use cases so that the NBN Co will know where users are taking up abnormally high amounts of capacity.