Almost one Australian every minute is asking NBN Co for a fibre internet upgrade, but soon some will get it for free
Hundreds of thousands of Australians are set to receive free or subsidised full-fibre internet upgrades in coming years.
- The majority of Australians do not have full fibre internet access
- Full fibre allows the fastest download and upload speeds
- NBN Co already allows some people to pay for their own fibre upgrades, but it will also offer free upgrades in coming years
But that has not stopped tens of thousands of Australians yearning for fast internet from asking NBN Co how much an immediate upgrade costs, including 8,000 in the past week alone.
About 1.5 million Australians have a full-fibre internet connection. 6.5 million others have NBN access through part-fibre links, repurposed old cables, wireless or satellite.
Most Australians get by without full fibre, but an upgrade may be desirable for people who are far from NBN infrastructure or run a home business.
Chasing the Choice
NBN Co’s Technology Choice program allows people to enter their address on the website and receive a quote for upgrading their internet connection to full fibre.
Until November 2020, a quote from Technology Choice cost several hundred dollars. Just 3,000 quotes were provided.
But when the system was improved late last year and the fee was removed, some 35,000 sought quotes in less than two months.
Since the tool was upgraded again at the start of February, 8,000 more quotes have been ordered.
The system provides an instant quote, ranging from several thousand dollars to more than $10,000 based on how far the new cables must run, or how difficult the installation may be.
But only some go on and complete the build. NBN Co has carried out approximately 1,250 upgrades in the past five years. There are another 400 applications being built right now.
Paul Bruce* was one of the early ones.
Despite the delay, he is glad he went through the process for the sake of his home business, graduating to full fibre from “only just bearable” speeds downloading photos and large files for tender documents.
His only advice? “See if you can get neighbours in on the upgrade to bring the cost per premises down. I tried but obviously did not sell it too well.”
Neighbours on board
David and Lea de Groot have done just that, signing up 110 neighbours to upgrade access in their Cedar Creek community near Brisbane.
“Our copper line degrades any time it rains because much of it runs near the creek,” Ms de Groot said.
“We are in the suburbs of Brisbane. In normal times we drive into the Brisbane CBD almost every day — and yet we are sharing NBN satellite with the remotest areas who can’t possibly get a fibre install.”
The couple had already made some enquiries with NBN Co over a previous upgrade scheme and received a “back-of-the-envelope” quote reaching $1 million.
“We knew it would take a group effort to afford it out here, so I immediately started mobilising the neighbours,” she said.
But despite having done the research and gotten their community on board, they are still waiting.
Group applications under Technology Choice have been suspended since December.
Free upgrades on the cards, for some
More than half of Alex Bauer’s road in Brookfield, west of Brisbane, is to be connected to fibre-to-the-kerb technology under the NBN rollout.
Unfortunately for him and his neighbours, their half is not. He is not prepared to pay for an upgrade.
“It is inequitable and discriminatory for the Government to facilitate connections for some while expecting others, on the same road and whom pay the same taxes, to personally pay exorbitant costs for the same services,” he said.
NBN Co announced last year it would borrow more money to fund more fibre upgrades, and flagged areas containing the first 100,000 homes that would have access to a free upgrade.
Workers have already been extending fibre along some streets in these communities, but it is still not clear what residents will have to do in order to receive a free installation.
In a statement, Jane McNamara from NBN Co said the company was “considering different ways to help ensure this program earns a reasonable rate of return”.
She said options under consideration included a “modification fee” if a customer who had received a free upgrade later downgraded their plan, term contracts, high-speed plans, a one-off installation charge or commercial incentives applied to retailers.
No decision will be made until after another round of consultation starts in March.
When the upgrades do come, they may not be universally welcomed.
Mr Bruce wants NBN Co to implement a scheme that refunds him if his neighbours take advantage of the infrastructure he has already paid for.
“I think if they are connecting customers to a network extension that I fully funded there should be some sort of pro-rata reimbursement,” he said.
*Name has been changed by request.