25/03/2007

THE AUSSIES AGITATE FOR BETTER BROADBAND

My Tomorrow's World column in the Herald on Sunday looks at the Australian Labor party's plan to contribute A$4.7 billion to building a national fibre to the node (FTTN) network if it wins the election later this year.

Similar plans have been floated before, one by Telstra, which was abandoned, and another called G9, which was proposed by a group of telcos. G9 didn't get off the ground either, but the appetite among players like Optus, which has promised to pledge $1 billion to the construction of a national fibre network, is likely to make the proposed public-private investment partnership work.

The plan has proven to be quite devisive and that's because of the proposal by Labor to sell down the Government's 17 per cent stake in Telstra to fund the network. What makes the whole thing interesting, is that many believe a similar, Government-funded network needs to be built here to create the level playing field in the telco industry we so desperately need.

Rod Drury floated his Securing Our Digital Trade Routes paper, which proposes something similar to the Labor broadband plan. It hasn't appeared to have got the political support it needs to be kicked along as an issue in the public domain. Communications minister David Cunliffe effectively rejected the idea on last week's Sunday programme, suggesting that private investment was a better method of funding broadband infrastructure and that there was plenty of appetite for that type of investment anyway. That shows the Government just is simply scared off by the big dollars such an investment would cost and is unwilling to consider the productivity gains the development of such a network would bring. I hope the Labor plan gets some traction across the Tasman, if only to change our own Government's thinking.

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