NBN gets a turn at political football

Rodney Gedda

Rodney Gedda is the former deputy editor of CIO and former editor of Techworld.

A week after the controversial Internet filter was renounced by the federal opposition, Tony Abbott made it two from two by announcing plans to scrap the NBN in favour of a scaled-down alternative. With so many contradictions kicking around who can you trust?

People have been punting Labor for wanting to filter the Internet, now they have a chance to tackle the coalition for wanting to ditch the NBN.

At the end of the day are we left with something politically neutral? Possibly. I think the decision to scrap Internet filtering will have more of a profound effect on apolitical people than any such decision around the NBN.

Both technical and non-technical people – including Tony “not Bill Gates” Abbott – felt as though a basic human right of free speech would be violated by compulsory censorship.

The NBN on the other hand appeals to visionaries that can see the potential for future applications of the technology.

More vision needed from the opposition

I think it’s clear to most observers that the coalition has released a half-baked national broadband policy by wanting to replace the NBN with a mixture of fibre, DSL and wireless to “plug the gaps” in the existing infrastructure.

It’s not a bad idea, it just looks like half a policy. If the immediate term policy is to scrap the NBN and extend the existing network, the opposition needs to back it up with a longer-term vision as well.

Broadband, like most other aspects of technology, is a journey, not a goal.

A quick look at the history Internet access in Australia shows we moved from dial-up and ISDN to cable and DSL and then to metropolitan wireless and 3G. Speeds have progressively inched upwards and for the most part access is in metropolitan areas (where 90 per cent of us live) is acceptable.

It’s the regional areas that remain a problem not least in part due to the scale of the task.

If regional areas moved from dial-up and patchy DSL to blanket ADSL2+ and wireless (3G and WiMax) in a short time frame then it would be a significant improvement – NBN or not.

It's not surprising the government has since upped the ante again and said the NBN is capable of delivering 1Gpbs to the premises without additional capital expenditure.

Suddenly, the coalition's 12Mbps last mile access speed pales in comparison to a supercharged NBN.

The best thing to opposition can do from here is show more commitment. It needs to formulate a long-term roadmap for the evolution of CAN to fibre where appropriate.

There's nothing inherently wrong with copper (the world runs on it), but it's nowhere near as a scalable as fibre for last mile access.

Whatever the next move is, it's good to see broadband getting the political attention it deserves.

Rodney Gedda is Editor of TechWorld Australia. Follow Rodney on Twitter at @rodneygedda. Rodney's e-mail address is rodney_gedda@idg.com.au. Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter at @Techworld_AU.

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