The National Broadband Network (NBN) was intended to provide Australia with major competitive advantages for both business and society: providing a vigorous Digital Economy to offset the mining boom, and offering more economical access to health, education and government services across the whole nation.
But this major nation-building project, the largest infrastructure project ever attempted by an Australian government, was cursed in the cradle by ferociously partisan politics. Support for the NBN in the regions was sufficient to get the Gillard Labor Government over the winning line in the 2010 federal election, when the Coalition's policy was to end the project. The Coalition learned their lesson, and for the 2013 election they differentiated themselves with a multi-technology platform (MTM) for the NBN, claiming it would be more cost-effective. This strategy neutralised many voters' concerns that they would kill the project off, while claiming two virtues: that the MTM NBN would cost far less in taxpayer investment, and that with their plan, an entry-level 25/5 Mbps access would be available to all Australian homes by the end of 2016. Unfortunately neither claim has been subsequently borne out by the facts.
Unfortunately for communications policy debate in Australia, we no longer have Mark Armstrong's wonderful annual Communications Policy Research Forum held each November in Sydney in the 2000s. The CPRF brought together policy researchers and analysts from many disciplines to debate good telecoms policy: engineers, economists, competition and intellectual property lawyers, media scholars, consumer advocates, sociologists, political scientists, public servants and government regulators. Its absence has been deeply felt ever since.
To provide an online forum in which to encourage constructive policy debate, TelSoc has inaugurated a webspace provisionally titled "Future of the broadband access" which you can find here. A number of useful historical papers on the NBN in its original version (2009-2013) and its MTM successor have been posted or linked, together with more recent analysis and commentary.
The most recent article to be linked is Rod Tucker's peer-reviewed journal article "The Tragedy of Australia's National Broadband Network", which provides us with an overview of where the rest of the developed world is heading with FTTP and FTTN. Unfortunately for us, most of our competitors have opted for a much more future-proof, higher fibre diet.
Any TelSoc member is able to contribute a blog or article in this policy space, and guidelines are provided.
We invite you to check out the current contents of this new broadband policy space.
Peter Gerrand and Graham Shepherd.