Concerns and confusion over Newcastle NBN Local initiative

Frustrated: Stockton resident Edward Sorby, 81, welcomed news of a local team established to help educate people about the National Broadband Network switch - until he tried to contact them. Picture: Marina Neil
Frustrated: Stockton resident Edward Sorby, 81, welcomed news of a local team established to help educate people about the National Broadband Network switch - until he tried to contact them. Picture: Marina Neil

It was promoted as a National Broadband Network effort to educate and engage with communities at a local level. But within a day of the NBN Local concept being unveiled, concerns have been raised about the initiative.

When it was unveiled on Tuesday, NBN Local was touted as offering help and education to Newcastle and Lake Macquarie residents who wanted guidance or had questions about the switch-over. But mixed messages about the role of the Newcastle team and the lack of a direct phone number for the community to get in contact has caused frustration.

When he first heard about the initiative, Stockton resident Edward Sorby was keen to ask how the switch-over would affect him.

Being 81, and with a health condition that means he doesn’t stray too far from home, Mr Sorby was concerned about chat among his friends that the NBN’s arrival would lead to his landline phone being switched off.

But he found contacting the Newcastle NBN Local team was a tough task.

“It’s typical of the whole system – they don’t want to be contacted. It’s ludicrous,” Mr Sorby said.

“It sounded like a wonderful thing – I thought ‘you beaut, we’re going to get someone local we can actually talk to’. We want feet on the ground telling us what to actually do.”

When asked by the Herald on Wednesday morning, NSW NBN Local manager Amber Dornbusch said the Newcastle team would take part in community engagement. She said NBN Local team members “can be on the ground having those face-to-face community engagement opportunities” – but couldn’t give specific details of plans for Newcastle.

While Ms Dornbusch was described as the leader of the Newcastle team in the media release announcing the initiative, she confirmed on Wednesday morning she was actually the NSW manager.

Several hours later, an NBN Local spokesperson emailed the Herald to say that the new initiative was “not a substitute for existing processes”.

The email said people should contact their service providers if they had issues – otherwise they could call NBN on the pre-existing number 1800 687 626 or write to the NSW NBN Local email address.

The spokesperson said NBN Local was “working on the ground with our construction partners and retail services providers on the more complex issues”. 

However, the media release issued ahead of the NBN Local launch noted that the team would “focus on educating Newcastle residents and businesses about the status of the NBN access network rollout, what they need to do to connect and what choices they have when switching over”.