Rob Oakshott and Tony Windsor both stated that the delivery of fast internet access to rural regions in Australia was a key consideration in their decision to support the minority Gillard government.
So far so good. Many of Australia's regional areas - even close to major cities - have very slow Internet access. This hampers local businesses and makes it difficult for them to compete with city-based businesses, particularly when websites need updating and eCommerce transactions are conducted.
Spending money - say $20b - on providing fast broadband Internet access to rural areas would go a long way to providing services and opportunities to rural areas. This could have the following benefits
- Companies could conduct business relying on Internet services at any location, not just major cities
- Regional employment opportunities could increase, attracting people to live in regional areas rather than continue to go to cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that are becoming crowded and congested
- Innovative health services using video conference and remote surgery could be provided in regional areas, and mean that people living there don't always have to travel to Melbourne for complex or specialist medical treatment
- Young people in rural areas would have the same sort of access to online media and social network that their city counterparts have.
I think all this is good.
However, the notion of providing fibre to every household in major cities is questionable. The vast majority of people who currently have ADSL2+ are happy with their speed of access and download volumes. Our household manages well with 15GB per month and two fairly heavy Internet users find the speed more than acceptable.
Friends with teenage children downloading lots of media operate on plans up to 150GB per month and find this meets their needs.
The notion that extremely high speed (and expensive) optical fibre is required to every home is simply not true. The notion that "it will be needed in the future" is highly questionable too. Given the rate of innovation and change in computing and the Internet, when the future arrives it will be different, and more often than not cheaper.
Politicians like Stephen Conroy know virtually nothing about technology and networks, yet they are presiding over major decisions like the scope and technology solution(s) for the National Broadband Network.
Most of these decisions are happening behind a veil of secrecy, with "commercial in confidence" being trotted out as the excuse for this. This is just not good enough. There has been no community consultation regarding the NBN requirements that I am aware of.
There has been no open industry consultation about it either.
Now Stephen Conroy and Julia Gillard are sitting on the "business case". Why? It is because it doesn't stack up? Do the significant costs of providing optical fibre to every home not have any tangible benefits?
Right there are more questions than answers.
I support proceeding with a rural high-speed Internet solution (say $20b) but think we should delay any expenditure on implementing optical fibre to the homes in our cities.
Optical fibre is already in use within the "Internet backbone" and further investment in this would be appropriate and cost effective.