Fairfax has
called for regulatory reform and broadband network investment, positing
that existing online access technologies are holding back its digital
business and national productivity. Convinced online media will become
increasingly restrained without radical improvements in bandwidth and
availability, Fairfax wants Australia’s communications heavies to take
ownership of the reform process, killing off what to date has been a
chicken and egg debate over the relative cost and benefit of a new
national network.

In one of his first public appearances since
his April appointment, Fairfax Digital CEO Jack Matthews told an
industry luncheon this week that market majors can’t afford to stand
back and watch. “If we get hung up in the chicken and egg debate
nothing will ever happen. My thinking is that those companies that
perhaps have the resources to make a commitment in advance, whether
it’s Fairfax, PBL or News Corp on the content side, or Telstra or
others on the network side, we frankly have an obligation to take a
lead,” he said.

Matthews says companies like Fairfax have a
responsibility to create demand for new networks. “Network owners will
be much more inclined to make an investment where there is clear demand
for the new services the investment will generate,” he said. “I would
say that Fairfax and our cohorts have a greater responsibility to get
this up and running.”

Establishing a new broadband regulatory
framework has become one of the biggest issues facing the Australian
communications market. Investment has been frozen while Telstra and the
government negotiate over potential wholesale access controls for a
proposed Fibre-to-the-Node network, while critics have dismissed a
rival consortium investment plan as a political stunt.

“We are
increasingly constrained in our ability to deliver what we know to be
the most valuable reader experience,” said Matthews. “Their [legacy
networks] designers simply couldn’t conceive of an environment where
users put as much into the network as they take out. Increasingly that
is what is happening, and increasingly that trend will accelerate.”