Is Australia's Proposed National Broadband Network Good Enough?
Posted in: Government & Policy at 15/04/2008 11:57
The OECD has released a report that provides a broad overview of developments in optical fibre technologies in the last mile, that is, between subscribers premises and telecommunication switches and in the backhaul part, from the switches to the core of the network. Issues related to the deployment of last mile fibre networks, their costs and related regulatory issues are also raised in the report, called Developments in Fibre Technologies and Investment. The timeframe for the paper is the period between 2010 and 2020. This, the OECD says, is the period when the new generation of hybrid fibre and all-fibre networks will have matured and rolled out on a large scale.
One of the main points of the paper is for the period 2010 to 2020 speeds of 50 megabits per second (Mbit/s) downstream and 10 Mbit/s upstream may be required to enable the parallel consumption of services (HDTV, radio, videoconferencing, security etc.) over the network. These speeds are significantly higher than the current OECD definition of broadband at 256 kbit/s, but are necessary to allow the end-user to enjoy a full range of services in parallel and to allow competition between the providers of these services over the network.
The speeds are also significantly higher than those proposed for the Australian National Broadband Network that calls for minimum download speeds of 12 Mbit/s to 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses.
Indeed, Japan is already approaching an average advertised download speed of 100 Mbits/s. Australia, at fourteenth in the OECD tables with just over 12 Mbits/s fares reasonably well. But this is exaggerated by high download speeds in many cities with rural and regional Australia largely missing out.
The OECD has previously reported on the benefits of broadband to economies. High-speed broadband is described by the OECD "as a key economic and social infrastructure on which the world depends to support economic growth and social development in countless areas, from healthcare and education to public services and the environment - and guiding principles for growth and development to enable societies to:
- Benefit from the innovation that the Internet triggers, while creating an environment that supports investment in infrastructure and services.
- Safeguard individual privacy while encouraging the deployment of services and devices that tailor information to individuals or allow them to participate in online social networks.
- Identify strategies for competitive communication services to flourish in developed and developing countries.
- Build on the Internet's successes, based on the decentralised nature of the network and the tradition of public and private sector interaction, for an infrastructure that is an essential element of economic and social welfare."
While it is laudable for the Australian government to set such minimum download speeds, could it be the Australian government is only asking for a network that is suitable for today, and will leave Australian in the backwater behind South Korea, Singapore, Japan, several Scandinavian countries and much of the rest of Europe tomorrow?
Broadband is an essential feature piece of infrastructure, but requiring a minimum download speed of 12 megabits per second is simply not good enough.