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Labor promises "super-fast" internet - but will you use it?

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Jay Weatherill insists there will be “insatiable demand” for a taxpayer-funded $35 million expansion of a gigabit-per-second Internet connection to South Australian homes – despite fewer than 200 households taking up packages of that speed on the NBN across the country.

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The Premier told reporters this morning that Labor would open up the Government-owned GigCity fibre network, currently only offered to businesses, to residents across metropolitan Adelaide and expand the reach of the GigCity network by more than 100 kilometres.

He said the $35 million project would offer speeds 10 times faster than those offered on the NBN at half the price.

Last month, The Australian reported that NBN Internet retailer MyRepublic offered thousands of households in Wollongong, south of Sydney, the highest speed available on the NBN at a below-cost price of about $130 a month mid-last year.

According to the report, just 70 out of the 44,235 residences took up the one gigabit-per-second Internet service.

And according to a report published on the NBN website (see table 1, class 4), only 173 households across the country, including the 70 in Wollongong, had signed up to a one-gigabit-per-second Internet service by the end of last year.

According to an NBN spokesperson those super-fast speeds retail at about $350 a month.

Hundreds of thousands of households across Australia have fibre-to-the-premises connections to the NBN – meaning they could theoretically access gigabit-per-second speeds, were more retailers to offer them.

Asked today what evidence the SA Labor had to suggest there would be the residential demand in Adelaide to justify investing in the super-fast service, Minister for Innovation Kyam Maher said many businesses had taken up GigCity connections.

“The evidence comes from our GigCity project already across 12 innovation precincts … taking up these high capacity Internet speeds,” he said.

He predicted that people would demand greater Internet speeds “as more content is created (and) more people are using greater bandwidth, there will be greater demand in the future”.

Speaking briefly to InDaily after the press conference, Weatherill insisted that there would be “insatiable demand” for super-fast Internet speeds and that, as soon as people are given higher speeds, they find ways to use it.

Maher said in a statement that: “We know that the demand is there because we listen to South Australians and this project will provide them with affordable, ultra-fast Internet.”

“Day in, day out, we hear from angry NBN users who are paying a lot and getting very little.”

Both the price of plans on an expanded GigCity network and the cost (if any) of initial connections for households are to be determined by a tender for Internet retailers.

But businesses currently linked to the network pay “from just $49.90 a month”, the Government says.

The Government will also establish a new Department of Digital Innovation to oversee the expansion of the network, which will be referred to as a “Fishbone network” because of its shape.

At the press conference, Weatherill said the plan to expand the GigCity network would “create jobs and opportunities for South Australians” and that the National Broadband Network had failed to deliver.

“The Internet now is an essential service,” he said. “Through Malcolm Turnbull’s failed NBN, it’s not doing the job.”

Maher said the plan would Adelaide “by far the most connected, by far the most affordable place with Internet anywhere in Australia”.

He added that the Government was “not expecting a massive commercial return from this investment”.

“This is the Government making an investment in what is now an essential service.”

The South Australian Council of Social Services welcomed today’s announcement.

“Creating a new Department of Digital Innovation and the promise to create a Digital Inclusion Plan is clear evidence that they are serious about bridging the digital divide,” said SACOSS Senior Policy Officer Dr Greg Ogle.

“There is still a lot of work to be done under any plan, but today’s announcement will provide a platform for doing this work to ensure that no-one is left behind in the digital future.

“The announcement of the expansion of the State Government’s fibre network in Adelaide is welcome, but we also need to pay attention to regional areas where 22 per cent of households are not accessing the Internet at home at all, including access via mobile phones.

“SACOSS is now calling on all other parties to match these digital inclusion initiatives and to announce their own suite of policies to ensure better Internet and telecommunications access for all members of our South Australian community.”

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