I had hoped that the decision by the Independents to determine which party formed the government would not be based on the respective NBN policies of the two major parties as the debate is based on several false assumptions.

As a result I had refrained from publishing my analysis during the election period to avoid it being viewed as politically motivated as I believe broadband policy should be determined by what is in the best interests of all Australians, not on political point scoring.

However, the claimed statement by key Independent Tony Windsor following a meeting with the Department of Broadband that he had been convinced “You do it once, you do it right, you do it with fibre” prompted me to publish. On what basis could the department be giving such advice as there is no international evidence to support such a contention and the US and the UK, for example, do not have such a policy?

Further, the broadband minister Stephen Conroy told Sky News “that if you want to give people equivalence in regional and rural Australia, you need the technology that can deliver … that is clearly a fibre-based broadband network”. All broadband will be fibre-based but if the minister means that fibre should be provided to 93% of Australian homes where is the technical or economic evidence to support such a contention? Other countries have a universal broadband service plan without building fibre to nearly all homes.

The case for fibre to the home in Australia has been pursued largely by the beneficiaries; the consultants whose businesses gain from the proposal, the suppliers who are beneficiaries of the proposed $43 billion expenditure and the major competing telcos who are seeking a way to gain parity with Telstra to be more competitive.

These proponents have relied on a series of myths to influence naïve politicians, the media and a largely unsuspecting and confused public.

This is not a political argument, as I believe that the Liberal Government was greedy in selling off the publicly owned Telstra, even though the proceeds went to the people, without instituting an access policy to provide for effective competition. This allowed Telstra to use its dominance to maximise market share and profits with no incentive to build high-speed broadband and leaving Australia well behind many other countries.

My concern is not with the need for national broadband but with the arguments for delivering a 100 MB, or 1 GB fibre, system to nearly every home in the country at an extraordinary cost.

Internationally and in Australia, all sides of politics already intend to use a combination of fibre, wireless and satellite; it is only a question of the mix.

A fibre broadband system of at least 1GB to hospitals, medical centres, universities, colleges, schools and businesses all over Australia is essential to drive world leading innovation, competitiveness and creativity.

The paper can be found at  www.coxmedia.com.au where I examine within an international context the myths behind providing fibre to the home and why no major economy is proposing such expensive government expenditure. International experience illustrates to the minister and the Independents that  broadband services available to those living in the cities including email, social networking, the internet, music, movies, videos, health, education, teleconferencing and public services can be equally accessible to those living in outer metropolitan areas, regional towns, the country and remote Australia without needing fibre to every home.

The minister and the department appear to be fibre zealots.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey