The NBN arrives in Palmerston! Well, almost...

NBN Co. in Palmerston via Gungahlin
On the way to work on Tuesday 21 May 2013, a billboard (on the side of a truck parked on Gundaroo Drive near Crace) informed me that the NBN had arrived in Gungahlin.
NBN Co. had been in our front yard. The trucks and cable crews are still in the streets. I even watched as they opened the Telstra pits on each side of our stand-alone townhouse as the cable went through.

I read about the Minister for Broadband Stephen Conroy's announcement that the NBN had been "switched on" in Gungahlin on 1 February.

But what does it all mean for Palmerston residents? How do you actually "connect" to the NBN? How much will it cost? What does one do to "get" the NBN? Despite all the fanfare and rhetoric, none of these questions appear to be answered in any practicable sense by government or NBN Co.

The Telstra "information shed" in Gungahlin
As soon as I returned home, I decided to find out what it all meant. As I was driving around Gungahlin, I recalled the Telstra "information shed" in the carpark at the The Marketplace, Gungahlin (where Woolworths is located).

I've been asking for a very long time: "What will happen to my existing contract with Telstra when the NBN comes to town?"

The NBN Co. website also has some rollout information (so does the Telstra website). After entering my address on the NBN Co. site, this is what I learnt:

Area information

This is the NBN rollout activity in your area.
  • Fibre | Construction commenced - construction commenced in your area on Mar 2012.
It is estimated that the average time from construction beginning to NBN services being available is 12 months
Not satisfied with this response, I visited the Telstra "information shed". Thankfully, the Telstra team there had most of the answers. First, the "info shed" has the NBN equipment setup (known as the NBN Network Termination Device or NBN NTD) so you can see what you are in for (see the NBN Equipment Template here). I learnt that I will need to find a spot on the wall somewhere near a power-point for the NBN equipment.

The Telstra team advised me that according to their information, NBN plans should be available at my place from 14 June. I was pleased to learn that to upgrade my existing plan with Telstra for home phone and ADSL, it would require a new contract (so another two years), but the installation would be free, and if I stay on the current 12mbps (theoretical speed) plan, my monthly cost would actually decrease by $10. 

It's worth a visit to the guys here in the Woolworth's carpark
Even better, to move up to the 100mbps NBN plan (with a T-Box etc) would cost me only $10 more per month. Obviously there is some loss-leading happening here but for an extra ten bucks it will be worth it to never again see the spinning arrow which invariably appears from my XBox in the middle of a Woody Allen flick from Foxtel.

But it may not be so simple. I had to sign a form to enable Telstra to contact me to tell me when the NBN plan would be available to me. No big deal - I'm already a customer. But there may be a catch.

It appears that if you live in a townhouse complex with a body corporate, it will depend on how the telecommunications infrastructure was set up whether you will have the NBN soon or not. Strata Community Australia provides some more detail and others share their experience of the NBN in a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) via Whirlpool.

So there you have it - we still don't know whether the NBN is really here in Palmerston via Gungahlin or not. If it was not for Telstra, I would be none the wiser.

I have argued for many years now that telecommunications services should be left to markets and not to governments. Government-controlled entities are inherently inefficient at delivering services and federal politics keeps everything hidden from the average citizen.

Will the NBN make a difference? I suppose so. Will it cost me extra? Other than a new two-year contract, it's not a big deal. But if what the economists are telling me is true, then the price we pay for an individual NBN plan may be somewhat less than the true cost to the nation.

And having a government-owned piece of equipment in my house harks back to the bad old days of PMG and later Austel where every time something went wrong with your telephone, Telecom blamed your fax machine and promptly charged you the callout fee. I hope NBN Co. is different but after more than 150 years of government-controlled telecommunications monoliths in Australia, I sincerely doubt it.

Meanwhile, in Palmerston via Gungahlin, we are still waiting for the NBN...