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NBN Co expands satellite services for remote Australia

With broadband supply outstripped by demand and satellite services already at their limit, NBN Co is expanding its satellite offering for remote communities.

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Image by killbox (CC BY 2.0)

NBN Co has announced an expansion of satellite services for remote Australian communities, promising to connect a further 9,000 premises under a new NBN Co Satellite Support Scheme.

Similar to NBN Co's Interim Satellite Service, the NSS is designed to connect homes and businesses until the NBN Co Long Term Satellite Service is officially launched in late 2015.

Residents have been unable to sign up for the ISS since the end of 2013 when the service reached capacity. After a review into fixed wireless and satellite services found demand for broadband in the bush was three times original forecasts, NBN Co later announced an increased investment in satellite services to meet demand and relieve pressure on the network.

According to NBN Co, the NSS will be available to Australians who "have not previously connected to a subsidised satellite service under the Australian Broadband Guarantee or the NBN Co's ISS program" and will be delivered via third party wholesaler IP Star.

Speaking about the increased satellite coverage, which is targeted at Australians who cannot access existing commercial broadband services, NBN Co chief customer officer John Simon said it would offer remote communities a range of new opportunities.

"Bringing broadband to the most remote communities across Australia is one of NBN Co's highest priorities," said Simon. "It gives residents access to e-health, distance education and internet banking, while businesses can benefit from increased productivity, reduced costs and access to new markets.

"With high demand for broadband in regional areas, this initiative is essential to providing a reliable service to families and businesses that cannot access a commercial broadband service today."

While news of 9,000 new connections will alleviate access pressures in remote Australia, advocacy groups say NBN Co needs to be doing more to tailor satellite services to the needs of remote communities.

Daniel Featherstone, general manager of the Indigenous Remote Communications Association recently told CNET that NBN Co's satellite service was a "one-size-fits-all model" that didn't factor in the ways remote residents -- especially indigenous communities -- accessed broadband.

"They're basing the current NBN delivery on a western model of having a satellite dish on the roof of every house in every remote community and people having a PC inside the house connected to it," said Featherstone. "The reality is almost no houses in the central Australian remote communities have a computer -- maybe 2 to 5 percent.

"Most people are using smartphones or iPads or maybe a laptop to get access, so the delivery model is at odds with the type of access devices people are using."

NBN Co is promising wholesale download speeds of up to 4Mbps with the NSS and upload speeds of 1Mbps, though in ISPs can expect "a minimum performance of 65 percent peak speed, 85 percent of the time" -- equivalent to download speeds of 2.6 Mbps for just over 20 hours a day.