Multinational companies trading in the NSW town of Armidale have been told they will need to cough up more than $200,000 if they want to be connected to the National Broadband Network.
The businesses, located in an estate on the southern outskirts of town, is responsible for 12 per cent of Armidale’s economy, and businesses have been told the fibre optic network would only be rolled out if they paid the $225,000 bill.
Federal and state MPs, as well as Armidale Dumaresq mayor Jim Maher, have derided the decision as “extremely disappointing”.
At the launch of NBN, Armidale was touted as a “model” for the nation’s roll out.
NBN Co community manager Darren Rudd said Acacia Park failed to meet federal guidelines, but admitted the estate would be used as an example to have those criteria reviewed.
“It’s in the hands of politicians at the moment,” Mr Rudd said.
“I’ve been out there and spoken to some of the businesses and the offer to extend the network on a user-pay agreement was tabled.”
Executives of the three largest businesses in Acacia Park, Howard Scott, Tim Ovenden and Steve Heaney say the the estate was ignored by NBN’s roll out team.
“What they've done is looked at a town map and decided to put the fibre optic cable where the houses are,” said Mr Ovenden, managing director of Aero Healthcare.
“Someone in Sydney has made that decision.”
NBN advocate and Member for New England Tony Windsor said he had spoken to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co about the issue.
“I reiterated to the minister that most industrial estates in regional communities would be found on the outskirts of town and that they should be recognised as economic drivers for the community, thereby supporting the case to include them in the fibre out footprint,” he said.
“Obviously though, if a precedent is set in terms of industrial parks on the outskirts of towns, the NBN Co business plan would need to be revisited.”
Member for Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay said he was well aware of the Acacia Park issue.
“I was involved in a meeting many months ago and I’m very disappointed that the largest industrial area in Armidale has been left out of the rollout,” he said.
“To ask the businesses to privately pay more than $200,000 is unfair.
“I’m urging NBN Co to reconsider the issue and observe the public comments regarding the rollout.”
Uniplan Group founder Mr Scott said it was important that Armidale, as a “model city” set the standard.
“They told us they don’t want to set a precedent for other towns, but we in fact want them to set the precedent,” said
“The businesses are the places they want to be targeting – there are more computers in the 20-odd businesses here than you’ll find on a residential block.”
NBN Co said wireless technology is available to the businessmen at Acacia Park, but the three businessmen rejected the notion that it was suitable technology.
“Wireless will never be as good or as stable as fibre optics,” Aspen Commercial Interiors managing director Mr Heaney said.
“You need a reliable connection when running a business.”
All three men run companies that rely heavily on technology.
Mr Scott and Mr Ovenden’s companies have overseas offices that would “benefit greatly” from NBN.
“At the moment I have three internet connections connected to my business that cost about $1800 a month,” Mr Scott said.
“With NBN I could cut that cost and have just the one connection. It would be faster, too.”
Mr Rudd said that businesses in Toowoomba and Geraldton that failed to meet NBN’s fibre network criteria had paid for the privelidge.
“What we’ve found is that the cost is offset by the long-term savings,” he said.