Whoever wins the upcoming federal election will have to articulate why Australian as a nation needs an NBN. And they will need to clearly convey why the government needs to be involved in this. At the moment there is no clarity on the subject and this leaves room for the confusion that is exploited by politicians and some parts of the media.
The NBN is an investment that extends for the next 30 years, so we also need a vision that looks beyond the current term of government, and at present that vision – linked to clear policies – is still missing.
In BuddeComm’s opinion the reason the government should be involved in national broadband infrastructure is because of:
- national economic policy – to create digital productivity;
- social policy reasons – in order to be better-placed to address some of the enormous challenges that our society is facing (sustainability, environment, energy, healthcare, education and so on).
None of these challenges can be solved by broadband alone – but, equally, none of them can be solved without a first-class broadband infrastructure. Governments should supply the vision and the policies that will guide our society and our economy in that direction. This will give a clear direction for all those involved, in all sectors, to then develop the best possible infrastructure/ICT solutions.
These policies should also be used to break through many of the costly, inefficient and unproductive sector and industry silos. As we see elsewhere, the digital economy is able to take significant costs out of the economy, sometimes in the order of between 60%-80%. This is essential in order to address many of the current economic and financial problems being faced by western economies.
The current political debate – in particular from the Coalition’s perspective – is still mainly focused on the plumbing. If that continues we will end up with a flawed plan for the future. Equally, the present government will have to quite dramatically change the financial foundations of NBN Co and put a far greater focus on the value of the transformative nature of the NBN, and better recognise the social and economic benefits it will bring to the nation.
Once the politicians involved (infrastructure, healthcare, energy, education, business, etc), together with their experts, have made an holistic national assessment they will need to develop trans-sector policies aimed at achieving horizontal social and economic benefits – let us say over a 10 to 20 year period (sector and industry transformations take a long time). Only then will it be possible to provide a brief to the ICT industry to come up with technical solutions.
Exhibit 1 – NBN policy focus beyond the election
In the end (10 years from now) the basic infrastructure (national FttH/5G mobile networks) will be a national utility. It is extremely unlikely that there will be room for competing FttH networks.
5G will bring mobile towers to every corner of every street – totally integrated with the fixed FttH infrastructure. The costs of this deployment will gravitate towards mobile infrastructure dominance; look how much spectrum Telstra could afford to buy – it will soon be dominant in 4G infrastructure.
Only when the political parties are prepared to develop an holistic social and economic vision for our country – one that will take into account the tremendous technological capabilities that new ICT developments are able to offer our society and our economy – will we be able to reap the full benefits of the national investment in the NBN.
There is still four months until the election and it would be great if, during that time, both Minister Conroy and Shadow Minister Turnbull could direct their NBN campaigns towards the issues mentioned above.
Australia is fortunate in having two of the most well-informed ICT Ministers in the world, and it would be regrettable if their expertise, insight and leadership were not directed in a more positive way towards those all-important national issues. After all, the Coalition has now come very close to the original NBN concept, so there should be much more room for a positive debate aimed at how to shape the NBN after the election.
- Australia – National Broadband Network – mid 2013
- Australia – National Broadband Network and the Opposition
- Australia – National Broadband Network – Digital Economy
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