As of yesterday, Australian electors are able to analyse each party’s broadband policy.

The ALP’s policy was one of the Rudd team’s first policy announcements, and it was significant, if only for the proposed cost — $4.7 billion –that was being drawn out of our Orwellian Future Fund.

Not surprisingly, the Howard Government accused the ALP of “raiding the Future Fund” in a bid for political benefit, and they argued that the broadband rollout should be done by private industry. Good call, but if that is true, why is it that our current internet speeds are so behind international standards?

Four months went by, and the Howard Government has hit back with its cheaper alternative, at the bargain-basement price of $958 million. Not surprisingly, the Rudd team accused the Coalition of backing the wrong, poorer technology.

Rudd referred to an OECD report that found wireless technology, which the Government is backing, requires favourable weather, flat landscapes and low-use levels — favourable weather? In Australia?

This political bickering is to be expected, and does make it difficult to figure out which policy is better. But one thing is certain, faster broadband is something the community needs ASAP.

According to the Roy Morgan SmartCompany Opinion Leader Survey, a survey of small and medium enterprises, 78% of SMEs said that the Federal Government should fund (or partially fund) improved broadband infrastructure. Furthermore, an uncomfortably high 33% of SMEs answered yes to “Is your current broadband service holding your business back?”

Some 91% of SMEs said faster broadband was either “very important” or “moderately important” to their business. Clearly, the Government has to invest in something so important to the productivity of our nation, especially given that our productivity is on the wane.

As this Roy Morgan graph clearly shows, the major mover in the media industry over the past 10 years has been internet access. This rapid uptake was despite Australia ranking a lowly second last out of 26 OECD countries for average broadband download speeds.

Could it be that our internet speeds have been artificially held back because our traditional media — newspapers and television — have not put pressure on the Government, as that would mean shooting themselves in the foot?

There is an obvious incentive for our traditional media to keep the broadband debate from the front-pages (and hence living-room debates), because faster internet speeds would force traditional media to radically restructure their marketing models.

However, Henry believes that it would be difficult to imagine electors debating the merits of each broadband policy the way they would be likely to debate a more racy issue like industrial relations.

Read more at Henry Thornton.