Cowper candidate Rob Oakeshott's top priority is NBN

Rob Oakeshott at Pacific Legal in Dorrigo
Rob Oakeshott at Pacific Legal in Dorrigo

Independent candidate for Cowper Rob Oakeshott says reliable and affordable access to high-speed internet will be a top priority for him, if he is elected to the federal parliament.

On Monday he visited Pacific Legal & Conveyancing, a small law firm in Dorrigo that has been waiting for months to have their fibre-to-the-curb NBN connection activated.

The firm’s directors, Jane Reidy and Nikki Gibson, have resorted to sharing an open letter online to force their telco and NBNCo to take action.

Nikki Gibson said the delay in getting onto the NBN was impacting their ability to deliver services to their clients.

"Our practice management software has moved to the cloud and our current ADSL connection is not adequate to support the cloud-based software," she said. "So we are struggling with no support available to our software licence until we are able to transfer to the cloud."

Mr Oakeshott has also spoken to several small businesses in the Bellingen area, including the North Bellingen Medical Centre, which experienced a surprise outage last week when their RSP did not notify them that the tower supplying their Fixed Wireless telephone and internet service would be out of action for a scheduled upgrade.

"We were having to rely on a single mobile phone for patient appointments, phone calls from specialists, radiologist and pathology; to notify patients of significant results and other issues," practice manager Sharna Waugh told the Courier-Sun. "And we rely on the internet for many important health and medication databases as well as government health resources."

Mr Oakeshott said this was simply not acceptable for a small business.

“These are just some of the examples I’ve heard from people around our region who are frustrated with their sub-par internet connections, due to the lack of a sensible and equitable National Broadband Network policy."

If elected, Mr Oakeshott said he would work with other MPs to ensure a minimum service standard for NBN speed, installation and servicing in regional areas, including standards on timely responses to faults and outages.

As minimum download and upload speeds, he nominated 25/5 Mbps.

"It is a bare minimum, but it's actually what was promised by government in 2013 when they made the change to downgrade from FTTP," he said.

Mr Oakeshott agreed that this was still the promised standard, but said "lived experience is massively below that", especially in regional areas like Bellingen where Fixed Wireless has been extended into townships instead of being restricted to rural outskirts.

He wants the government to map out a work schedule towards fibre-to-the-premises and will resist calls to declare the job done and privatise the network while the Mixed Technology Model remains in force.

"The trail of damage to business of having copper still in the network and this mixed model is an unreliable, intermittent, costly service that is just frustrating the daylights out of way too many people," he said.

"If privatisation is allowed to progress while communities like Bellingen still have this mixed model with fixed wireless and unsatisfactory standards of downloads and uploads, that'll never get addressed."

Rob Oakeshott speaking to Dorrigo residents

Rob Oakeshott speaking to Dorrigo residents

Mr Oakeshott also wants a Universal Service Obligation to stipulate acceptable timeframes for resolving faults and problems.

"It's averaging about 20 days," he said. "That's a long time in regional business. I think we could argue it should come down to 48 to 72 hours."