Small business and broadband

That this House acknowledges that:

(1) small and medium businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy and employment;

(2) all Australians, including small business people, should have access to fast, affordable and reliable broadband;(3) regional small businesses often encounter greater difficulty accessing broadband and often receive a lower

standard of broadband service; and

(4) the Government has a plan to prioritise getting areas of most need connected to fast reliable broadband sooner,

especially in regional areas.

Small business is the heart and soul of the Australian economy. Of the over two million actively trading businesses in Australia, almost 96 per cent are small businesses and 3.8 per cent are medium businesses. Small and medium business combined employ 70 per cent of the nation’s private sector workers or 59 per cent of all Australian workers. Small business alone—those with less than 20 employees—account for nearly 50 per cent of all of Australia’s workers in the private sector. This is why small business is so important to the coalition government, and why the government hasmoved to make life easier for small business.

Regional Australia needs better broadband sooner. It waited years under Labor. Regional Australia needs to catch up to the major metropolitan centres and have access to the type of broadband service that allows businesses to grow and compete and individuals to enjoy an equivalent level of access. Labor in government failed to prioritise regional communities in the original NBN plan.

There were appalling gaps in Labor’s rollout plans. Many regional areas with no broadband service were left behind for six years, or left out altogether. By September 2013 Labor had invested a staggering $6.5 billion in NBN Co, yet the NBN reached only three per cent of Australian homes and businesses and only one per cent actually received services. Labor underestimated by a factor of 2 to 3 the number of Australians in regional and remote areas who want the NBN. This is easily demonstrated by their bungling of the NBN Interim Satellite Service, which provides temporary internet access for premises in metropolitan fringes and regional and remote areas that have no other way of getting broadband.

In July 2013 Labor told 250,000 households and businesses, many with no other option, that they were eligible for the ISS. Five months later, in December 2013, the ISS reached its capacity of just 48,000 customers, and registrations were closed. Tens of thousands were left demanding services but were unable to get them. Labor spent $351 million on the ISS—$7,300 per user—yet it delivered a dial-up service to many users. By comparison the coalition government has made un-serviced and under-serviced regions a priority. The government moved in April 2014 to fix Labor’s mistakes—$34 million was committed to improving the ISS to improve service quality for existing users, allow new connections and establish a subsidy scheme for the cost of on-premises equipment and installation.

The challenges of Australia’s geography and population density mean that outside of city centres, NBN Co has planned a combination of fixed line, fixed wireless and satellite technologies to deliver fast broadband for all Australians. NBN Co’s satellite program is now based around both the interim satellite service and a long-term satellite service. The Interim Satellite Service currently in place involves NBN Co leasing capacity from IPSTAR and Optus Satellite.

In the meantime, NBN Co is developing its Long-Term Satellite Service by building two identical satellites to provide high-speed broadband services. The first of two Ka-band satellites that NBN Co will use for this upgraded service is expected to be in operation before mid-2016, lifting broadband quality for users in remote locations. Around $2 billion has been committed for designing, building and launching the satellites and for other equipment and services needed for the LTSS. The LTSS is designed to bring a step change in the experience of broadband users in regional and remote Australia, where so many small to medium businesses are, with peak download speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of five Mbps. These speeds exceed those typically available to ADSL2+ users in metropolitan Australia today. The LTSS will cover the entire Australian mainland and islands, through 101 dedicated ‘spot beams’. Each satellite beam will have a different capacity in terms of maximum bandwidth, split across all end-users in the beam. The highest-capacity beam will serve up to 15,000 premises, while the 20 lowest capacity beams will average 700 premises each.

The coalition is committed to rolling out the National Broadband Network as quickly as possible, at less cost to taxpayers and more affordably for consumers. In just over one year it now reaches more than double the number of users than previously. In nine months the number of premises covered increased 65 per cent, from 348,000 to 573,000. The rollout is proceeding using a multi-technology mix that matches the right technology to the right location and leverages existing infrastructure. It is also worth noting that the 18-month rollout plan shows our commitment to rural and regional Australia, where so many small to medium businesses are, with almost one million premises being covered outside of major urban areas. Of the areas receiving upgrades to their fixed-line network, more than 800,000 are outside of major urban areas, which is almost half of the total rollout in the fixed line footprint. An additional 128,000 premises in rural and regional areas will be upgraded with access to fixed wireless broadband. And under the coalition government since the election the reach of the fixed wireless network has gone from just 39,000 premises to more than 173,000 premises today.

The NBN Co strategic review found that if Labor’s NBN proceeded it would cost $72.6 billion—$29 billion more than the public were told—and would lift broadband costs by up to 80 per cent and take until 2024 to deliver. The coalition’s approach will save taxpayers $32 billion, get the NBN finished four years sooner and enable nine out of ten Australians in the fixed-line footprint to have access to download speeds of 50 megabits per second or more by 2019.

In my own electorate of Forrest, NBN has recently announced new services to be provided by fibre and fixed wireless technologies in Brunswick, Stratham and Boyanup. This will add to the 44,000 homes and businesses in Western Australia with access to the NBN. I was especially glad to see the media release from NBN Co announcing the additional services in my electorate. I would like to quote from that release: For many homes, farms and businesses in rural and regional Western Australia the rollout of the NBN will provide access to internet speeds and bandwidth that many in the big cities take for granted.

In small rural and regional community like those in my electorate, and yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, we know that there are emerging numbers of small enterprises, even micro-enterprises, that are looking for the level of support that enables them to access the NBN in the way they need to in order to run their businesses. One of the most frequent responses I got from business during the past six to seven years concerned their having access to the appropriate level of bandwidth to be able to conduct their businesses. The fact that we have upgraded and given more businesses access in the short time we have been in government is a credit to the Minister for Communications. As we know, small business is the heart and soul of so many small regional communities. They are the people who support every community service organisation, every sporting club, every and emergency services organisation. Not only do they rely on them for donations and in-kind support, but often it is the workers in small business we rely on to help out in emergency services. We have seen this very clearly right throughout the south-west, particularly with the severe fires we have had throughout Western Australia.

Regional small businesses often encounter much more difficulty, and have, and I am very pleased that we have taken a proactive approach in prioritising under-serviced and un-serviced areas. This is the total approach we have taken to NBN. With what has been rolling out in my electorate I can see that it will not just be small premises; it will be businesses, the small businesses right throughout the electorate, who will over time have access to better broadband sooner. That has always been our intention.

So many small businesses that supply a range of different services are looking for the speeds that are necessary simply to do their businesses. Even those who are tradespeople are active in this space. In different pockets of my electorate they find it particularly difficult to access the various services. The other side of this is our plan to prioritise areas to get fast broadband sooner. The regional areas are the thrust of what we are about.