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Rudd and his high-speed broadband

By Tristan Ewins - posted Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Rudd Labor announced - on April 7 - a plan to finance and construct a massive “fibre-to-the-home” broadband network supplying service to 90 per cent of Australian homes. This comprises a remarkable sea change in public policy.

According the Stephen Conroy, the project will “directly support up to 25,000 local jobs every year, on average, over [its] 8 year life”.

As reported on the SBS news website, the new company, formed by the government, “will spend more than $43 billion delivering high speed broadband to 90 per cent of homes and businesses”.

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Meanwhile, the remaining households would be provided with wireless and satellite technology.

The plan in its entirety, however, would “set back the deliver of high-speed broadband to the entire country until about 2018”.

Presumably the plan is for rollout to begin soon, perhaps even mid-2009 for Tasmania, but will take eight years for completion.

Here, time is of the essence. Australia could well become a world leader in new communications, information, and entertainment industries. Close scrutiny needs to be applied, therefore, in ensuring the swift deployment of the promised infrastructure. If the deployment can by “fast-tracked” it would be preferable.

Currently, the government plans to take a holding of at least 51 per cent in the company, including the issuing of “Infrastructure Bonds” to the public.

The “slack” is supposed to be “taken up” by the private sector but with the financial crisis and shortage of liquidity that may not be viable for some time.

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For many years, now, Australian governments have eschewed the kind of nation-building infrastructure investments which are so vital to our country’s future. Now, however, Kevin Rudd has placed this announcement in the same league as the iconic Snowy Mountain hydro scheme.
Again, I would emphasise that the investments we make now might provide for Australian information, communications and entertainment for decades into the future. So it is essential for the government to “get it right”.

At the Left Focus blog, I argued in February for a public “fibre to the home” network. Importantly, such a substantial investment stands to deliver productivity gains, and drive real improvements to material living standards.

New technology in this sector looks set to deliver a revolution in communications, information and entertainment. As I wrote in February, new technology could involve: “the fusing of digital television with internet services and content.” While the new paradigm could be “interactive, participatory, open, and consumer driven”, “consumers [might] be able to shift seamlessly from ‘pay for content’ services, to free-to-air content”.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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