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Australia - Clarifying the current NBN position and plotting its future

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Last updated: 13 Aug 2013 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 11

Analyst: Paul Budde

Synopsis

After the Australian Federal Election in September important decisions regarding the country’s national broadband network (NBN) will have to be taken by the winning party, so this is a good time to take a look at where we came from, where we are now, and what we need to do to make further progress. With such a lot of politics in play it has been difficult, for international observers in particular, to separate reality from rhetoric. I have therefore written in a way that I hope will make the Australian situation also clearer to overseas readers.

The NBN was conceived between 2007 and 2009 when Telstra was hell-bent on keeping its monopoly going, and the political opposition was hell-bent on killing the NBN at any cost. In 2013 the situation is vastly different. Today we have bipartisan support for the continuation of the NBN and the incumbent, Telstra, is extremely supportive of the NBN and cooperative with the government.

So the NBN is here to stay. What is needed now is a sensible review of the situation in the context of this improved environment – hopefully with less politics, more business sense and, most importantly, the national interest in mind.

BuddeComm is still concerned about the lack of a digital economy policy from the Coalition Opposition, as that should underpin the need for an NBN as a national infrastructure utility. The debate is still too focused on speeds needed by residential users; while the real issue is an economic one: digital productivity. This has so far been the wrong debate; instead it should focus on key elements required for the digital infrastructure needed for digital productivity, cloud computing, M2M, healthcare, education, smart grids and so on. Key NBN requirements for those purposes are: very high capacity, reliability, robustness, low latency, security, ubiquity and affordability. So far the Coalition has not tested its NBN policy against these requirements.

Also, in general the (regulatory) debate is far too telecoms-focused – trying to make its use optimal for the telcos and ISPs. Instead it should be aimed at as wide as possible participation from other sectors.

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As you know, I have resigned from the Labor Ministry and have decided not to re-contest the seat of Charlton at the next election – both for personal reasons.

Before leaving Parliament, I particularly wish to record my thanks to you for your generous and constructive participation in the deliberations that generated significant economic policy reforms for the Australian community. Continuous economic transformation is a key challenge that faces all Governments.

The development of sound public policy should always be contestable. Ultimately, good and equitable outcomes are not concessions to any particular interest group, but the careful balancing of interests to create the greatest possible benefit for the nation. You have contributed to that, and I sincerely thank you for it.

Greg Combet, Former Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation

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