Weighing in on the Peter Rossi and Hugh Bradlow debate on the Government’s proposed broadband plan, I would like to add a regional perspective, from a business based in regional Australia and one that does not have a vested interest from a sales perspective in the technology itself.
Our information technology services company, Aspirence Information Technology, based in Albury, NSW, services a large range of small to medium-sized businesses in regional Australia across a diverse range of industries. Far from being farmers who duck out to the hayshed to run a few downloads, many of our customers are nationally and globally competitive businesses crying out for quality broadband services.
The Government plan announced last week is a poor solution to the needs of our country for a number of reasons, but really it’s about uploads … uploads … uploads. You can talk all you want about download speeds, but its access to synchronous data transfer that is sadly lacking and will not be rectified under the Government’s plan. The outlook for the competitiveness of regional business looks dim for a future without FTTN.
What we do need is a public FTTN infrastructure that gives fair access to all players, and a level playing field without the need for the current regulation. I am not calling for support for Telstra in its push for FTTN contracts because we are already at its mercy, but Telstra’s arguments are sound. That the OPEL solution is inferior cannot be disputed. We cannot, however, let this debate rest until the public is made aware of just what is at stake in the broadband debate — the future competitiveness of regional Australia.
The debate often focusses on making sure “the bush” has good access to broadband. One thing the Government should do immediately is clarify exactly where “the bush” is. We are located in a regional hub with close to 100,000 people. There are many cities in regional Australia with over 40,000 people, and a number with over 80,000. Are we all in the bush It appears our politicians (and much of the media) assume anyone living outside the capitals has a hayshed in the backyard? Regional cities and businesses have very different broadband requirements to “the bush” that the minister alluded to in her interview with Kerry O’Brien on the 7.30 Report after the plan was announced.
Helen Coonan’s comments are reflective of her Government’s ignorance on how its broadband plan affects truly regional businesses. No minister, this is not just about farmers going out to their sheds to do business on their laptop. For many regional businesses their broadband requirements are far more sophisticated than keeping an eye on daily wheat prices and checking in with the Bureau of Meteorology.
I acknowledge there are obvious challenges in extending coverage to the truly remote “bush” areas, and much of the country will need to put up with wireless for some time. However, if we in the regional cities are relegated to DSL or worse for the foreseeable future, we just simply won’t be able to compete with our metropolitan-based competitors and the rest of the world in just a few short years.
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