One Nation senator, Pauline Hanson, has called on the Federal Government to materially support a 90-kilometre undersea fibre link to Norfolk Island, a move that could come with a price tag of up to $12 million or more.
Hanson, who earlier this month was appointed to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN), has written to communications minister, Mitch Fifield, asking for his support on the proposed 90km fibre-optic spur to Norfolk Island.
The proposed spur would branch off from the 14,000-kilometre, $US300 million subsea Hawaiki Cable, which is being laid less than 100 kilometres from the island, and will connect the US, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand, upon its completion, slated for 2018.
In a letter addressed to Fifield, Hanson said that following a “fact-finding” visit to Norfolk Island, which lies more than 1400 kilometres to the east of the Australian mainland, she had gained an “insight” into the island’s opportunities and its stated need for the undersea fibre link.
“The [Hawaiki] undersea cable engineering and manufacturing process has begun; however, there still exists a very small window of opportunity for Norfolk Island to connect if the Australian government is able to assist either financially or through an underwriting agreement,” Hanson said.
“I am aware of private sector interest and capacity to fund the connection of the cable, however they are seeking some guarantee that the connection will be supported, rather than excluded by the NBN presence on the island,” she said.
The island – and its population of around 2200 people – is currently serviced by Norfolk Island Telecom which, according to Hanson, provides fibre-to-the-node (FttN) connection across the island, which also falls under the remit of NBN services via wireless coverage from the network’s SkyMuster satellites.
Hanson wants the proposed fibre link to help carry the island's NBN data traffic, with documents supporting her letter to Fifield suggesting that the current infrastructure available does not provide the adequate data speeds and low latency to best serve the island's population.
It is understood that a previous consortium of private investors pulled out of their offer to build the proposed fibre spur, which will has been slated to cost approximately $12 million to lay and connect, after the Australian government took over jurisdictional control of the island earlier this year.
Hanson’s push for the fibre link comes just weeks after Triworlds IT consultant, Ben Howard, began lobbying the government to help fund the undersea cable extension, which had previously been proposed by the company laying the Hawaiki Cable company.
In a letter to minister for regional communities and regional developments, Fiona Nash, dated October 20, Howard said “it would be essential to commit to installing the Branching Unit (tap) for NI [Norfolk Island] at this time”.
He claimed that the Hawaiki Cable company had made an offer to the Norfolk Island Regional Council at the beginning of October to install a fibre tap at a proposed cost of around $US2 million, and suggested that other regional entities, such as Tonga, had taken up similar offers.
“I understand that Tonga signed on for Hawaiki as recently as yesterday,” he said.
The calls for the Norfolk Island fibre link come as the federal government marks the construction of two new fibre routes, stretching nearly 600 kilometres, to deliver a new fibre transit link to the Queensland townships of Windorah, Birdsville, Bedourie, Jundah, and Stonehenge.
The project, which is expected to be completed in 2017, will cost around $16.5 million and is slated to provide 4G and ADSL services to the remote communities.