Coalition broadband policy misses the online point

AFTER years of arguing over broadband policy, the Coalition yesterday demonstrated it still does not "get" the internet or the technology that underpins it.

In case you missed it, the Coalition announced it would trim the National Broadband Network if it wins the next election, cutting projected speeds from 100 megabits per second to 25, reducing the time-frame of the roll-out and cutting the cost to about $29.5 billion. (Depending who you ask, Labor's broadband network will cost anywhere from $37.5 billion to $90 billion, with the most commonly agreed-on figure sitting around $44 billion).

The irony is, in the scheme of things, the Coalition's policy is not going to save much and, given its cost projections do not factor in the Government's deal with Telstra; there's a chance it will save even less.

Perhaps more to the point, the Coalition doesn't appear to grasp the scope of benefits ultra-fast internet could bring to Australia.

The essential difference between a modern PC and, say, the Commodore 64 computer that was popular in the 1980s, is speed and storage.

A significant part of the real benefit of the NBN is based on faith in the ingenuity of programmers and online entrepreneurs

Advances in the internet have followed a similar trajectory to computers. From dial-up to ADSL2+ we have moved from slow-moving text pages to images, video, and increasingly powerful internet-based applications, such as the production system I am writing this editorial on.

The jump from current internet speeds to the NBN's promised 100Mb per second is similar in scope to the leap from the Commodore 64 to Apple's latest MacBook Pro with online "cloud" storage.

We know we will be able to do far more than we can with our old C-64, but we won't be able to say exactly what until we've spent some time mucking about with the MacBook.

It's not an answer to please accountants - and certainly not organisations like the Australian Industry Group which continues to call for a detailed cost benefit analysis.

A significant part of the real benefit of the NBN is based on faith in the ingenuity of programmers and online entrepreneurs.

However, given the trajectory taken by the development of internet services since CERN made the source code for the World Wide Web freely available 20 years ago and the speed of computer development since the 1980s, that faith doesn't require too great a leap.



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