For Ruth and George Palavestra, working from home during the lockdown in Canberra was almost impossible.
The couple lives in Gordon, in the south of the city, where the NBN installs the fiber up to the node.
“George was trying to run meetings and a department from home and I was trying to provide telecare from home plus we had two kids in the house doing schoolwork – it was a nightmare,” Ms Palavestra said.
“We had to make sure our meetings didn’t collide so we could have them without interruptions, but then they would still drop out. A couple of times I couldn’t even connect.”
On a good day, internet speeds in the Palavestra house reach 25 megabits per second — but that’s a rarity.
“It just stopped and it’s very frustrating to have to reconnect.
“It feels like we’re constantly apologizing for something we have no control over.”
Good internet depends on where you live in the capital
Peter Elford, a telecommunications specialist from Canberra, said that when it came to NBN in the area, the quality of service depended on your location.
“It is completely dependent on the technology used to deploy the NBN,” said Mr Elford.
Fiber to the node, or FTTN, relies on a fiber optic cable to connect to a mini-exchange, also called a node, near the house, which then connects to your home via a traditional copper telephone line. property is connected.
A fiber-to-the-building connection, or FTTP, uses a fiber optic cable to connect the NBN directly to your home.
“Gungahlin was part of the second rollout of the NBN and new fiber optic cable was towed through the streets to every home,” said Mr Elford.
When the political leadership in the country changed in 2013, it was decided that instead of using fiber up to the house, as was the case in Gungahlin, the existing copper network used for telephone lines would be used to bring fiber close by. to deliver.” the house, but the last few hundred yards would be supplied by the copper wire.
Still only Gungahlin and small pockets spread across Canberra have FTTP NBN – almost everywhere is connected by FTTN.
But, there are other options.
A growing number of Canberrans are moving to Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet technology, which offers speeds up to six times faster than NBN.
Thousands of households in Canberra are also still connected to the VDSL2 service, a unique network installed in 2001 using a fiber optic cable rolled out by TransACT, a Canberra-based telecommunications company now owned by iiNet.
“You can have situations where out on the street one side has FTTP — a lot of bandwidth, very reliable, very stable, consistent — but on the other side of the street you might have FTTN or some other technology that isn’t as reliable or consistent,” he said. Mr Elford.
“It’s a drag on that community’s ability to use the services you can get from the Internet.”
The local ‘NBN man’ campaigning for change
In Kambah in southern Canberra, Steve Ulrich is known as “the NBN guy”.
“When I walk down the street with my dogs, a lot of people wave and say yes,” he said.
Mr. Ulrich was so tired of the slow ADSL service in his neighborhood that he started a campaign to connect his neighbors at home via fiber.
It was a “hard slog” and it took thousands of hours of negotiating with NBN Co over five years.
In 2019, 130 homes eventually made the switch.
“There was an appetite there, a very strong appetite to fix the internet in this area,” said Mr Ulrich.
The solution wasn’t cheap — each household paid just under $3,000, but Mr. Ulrich said it was money well spent.
“We don’t have dropouts, our telecommuting works perfectly,” he said.
But for individual households to do the same, the cost is much more prohibitive.
“Depending on the infrastructure in your suburb, you could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars,” said Mr. Ulrich.
“In general, most people pay between $14,000 and $18,000 for their own FTTP connection and are essentially donating an asset to NBN Co – a government-owned company.”
Politicians compete for better connections
Federal Labor is pushing for broadband to become an election issue.
It has pledged $2.4 billion to give 1.5 million homes and businesses across the country access to faster internet by 2025 if it wins the next federal election.
The opposition said it would also expand full fiber access to NBN nationwide in all states and territories, creating 12,000 jobs.
The federal government has always stuck to its plan to shake up Labour’s original vision for the NBN and move to FTTN.
Still, it pledged $3.5 billion last year for NBN upgrades, due to be completed by 2023.
Under the plan, FTTN and fiber to the curb would be extended, but fiber direct to home would only be installed if there was a customer order.
However, families like the Palavestras, who plan to retire soon, fear they won’t be around to see their service upgraded.
Ms Palavestra said she couldn’t understand why it had taken so long – and a COVID-19 pandemic – for both sides of politics to realize that good quality internet was essential.
“To me it’s like health and education, it’s a basic need — good sewage, good electricity, good NBN,” she said.