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What's life really like on the NBN? (Part II)

Kiama is perhaps best known for its ocean views and a blowhole that spouts water up to 25m in the air. But these days, the coastal area is also becoming known for being one of five first release sites for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The Kiama area was the second of the first five release sites to be switched on to the network in May 2011, with around 2400 premises passed by NBN fibre, according to NBN Co.

View our interactive NBN map

What's life really like with the NBN? Part I

There are around 5800 people living in the Kiama Downs and Minnamurra area, with some 60 per cent of premises in the areas now signed up for a connection to the network.

Some people have been so keen to get the NBN that they have made the sea change to the area partly because of the network.

Michael McMahon is a solicitor who now works from home. He was previously living in Sydney's beachside suburb of Bronte and recently moved to Kiama. He has been on the NBN for just over two weeks.

While he lauds the benefits of the NBN, he did experience some issues getting connected.

After purchasing a property in Kiama Downs overlooking the golf course, McMahon says he had some renovations carried out on the house. This meant connecting the home to the NBN wasn't urgent.

McMahon organised for the NBN to be connected to his new home, and chose Telstra as his RSP (the NBN equivalent of an ISP).

He says Telstra kept postponing activation of the connection and when the telco did finally connect the house, there were problems. He says Telstra's response to the issue was "slow", with an external computer specialist eventually fixing the problem.

"So that didn't impress us all that much, but it's now running quite well. The guy from Computer Troubleshooters in Berry came in and made sure it was working well," he said.

McMahon mainly uses the NBN to access a legal system that allows solicitors to record new legal matters as they come in. This means the lawyers are no longer tied to Sydney and can work remotely, with McMahon's clients based in Sydney and the Bega Valley area south of Kiama.

His household also has a phone line on the NBN, with only a "dinosaur" fax machine still on the copper network.

Without the NBN, McMahon says working from home would have been a lot slower and more frustrating.

"The best thing is the speed at which the whole thing works. I suppose the worst thing is the teething troubles in getting it up and running," he says.

Henny Williams, business owner of Essential Bookkeeping Solutions, also lives in Kiama Downs and has experienced numerous issues with the NBN.

She has around 70 clients for her bookkeeping business and uses the Internet for basic functions such as email, accessing Australian Tax Office portals and lodging BAS statements.

But reliable and faster Internet has become more important for her as more businesses and individuals move to cloud-based accounting.

"So it's really important for us to have a good Internet connection so that we can process work for our clients using Internet-based software," she says.

"If it's a slow connection, then that slows us down, so the NBN has been fantastic for that."

Williams has been connected to the NBN for around 15 months and is on the 100/40Mbps speed with Exetel, paying around $50 a month.

Williams says she signed up to the fastest speed on the network because the price was comparable to what she was paying on ADSL2 with TPG.

She initially heard about the benefits of the NBN, such as its reliability and speeds, and made the switch when she realised it was going to benefit her business.

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Williams experienced the most problems out of all the Kiama residents Computerworld Australia spoke to.

"There have been some occasions -- not a lot -- where it has slowed right down, but that's only been less than a handful of times," Williams says.

"I do only recall one day where I actually had to make a phone call and say 'what's happening?' because it just kept dropping out, and they were aware of the issue."

When the dropouts occurred, Williams said it was a matter of waiting until the connection came live again. This lasted a few hours each time.

Williams also experienced some frustration during the installation process. She says the external box for the NBN was initially placed on the opposite side of the house to where her office was located, which she was told would have meant running cables through walls inside her home.

"I said 'that's not going to happen'," Williams says.

She says NBN subcontractors agreed to move the box to the other side of the house but requested she pay for the move after initially being told it would be done at no cost.

"So I had to fight with NBN [Co] to get it moved at no cost to me," Williams says.

The box was eventually relocated at no charge to her.

"It was over Christmas as well, which didn't help, but from memory it was about two months before it was finally sorted," Williams says.

"They were [eventually] quite agreeable with whatever we said as long as it didn't interfere with their installation and make it difficult."

Williams has also had trouble using her Engin VoIP phone on the NBN, with calls randomly dropping out. She says she has spoken to Engin about the problem, which said "it was a known NBN issue".

She says her only option is to replace the Engin VoIP phone and organise a new one through Exetel.

Despite the dropouts and installation problems, Williams says he is happy with the network and it's been a big improvement for her.

"I notice the difference when I go to clients' offices and I've got to access their Internet ... I'm starting to get impatient with everybody else's Internet," she says.

Her daughter lives in Kiama and is using mobile Internet.

"It's so slow. I don't know how she puts up with it. I can't handle it. I'm getting spoilt here," she says.

Unlike Williams, Nick Hartgernik, owner of Hartgerink Media Services, a publishing consulting company that operates out of his home, has not had any problems with the NBN and is extremely happy with the network.

His house was one of the first homes to be connected to the NBN in Kiama Downs and was a test area for technicians to demonstrate the challenges of hauling fibre to existing premises.

He typically uses the NBN to send and receive large files, such as images and PDFs of publications, which he says is downloaded and uploaded quickly.

The NBN has also made it easier for Hartgernik to communicate with his graphic designer, who lives in Sydney, and a photographer who lives in Wollongong, about a 30 minute drive from Kiama Downs.

"When I first started my business about 11 years ago I found slow Internet speeds were such an impediment and often I couldn't send large files," he says.

"I'd have to put a whole lot of pictures on discs and post them and now that's just a thing of the past. It's really streamlined my business and made it quicker."

He was previously on an ADSL connection and is now on a 25/5 Mbps plan with 100GB of data for $64.95 per month.

Hartgernik believes he is saving around $200 a month in phone calls by using a VoIP phone line on the NBN, paying $9.95 per month for unlimited national calls.

The only issue Hartgernik said he has had with the network were noise issues associated with drilling in the early rollout period prior to an agreement being signed with Telstra to use its conduits.

"It's a very hard rock here -- basalt rock -- and there was a lot of very slow drilling going on around our neighbourhood, which was a little bit annoying," he says.

Hartgernik attributes the strong take-up rate to the NBN in the Kiama area as being due to the local council being strong supporters of the network and proactively encouraging residents to embrace the opportunities offered by it.

"I would also think that word of mouth [has been good]. I tell all my friends how happy I am with it and I'm sure others do too," he says.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


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