Free broadband will help the NBN's case

Some of the major benefits to society from a ubiquitous broadband network will come from government services, including health and education. That means access to these services needs to be free, so everyone is able to make use of the channel, displacing other, more costly, ways of interacting.

Some of the major benefits to society from a ubiquitous broadband network will come from government services, including health and education. That means access to these services needs to be free, so everyone is able to make use of the channel, thus displacing other, more costly, ways of interacting.

This isn't a new notion. Economist Joshua Gans raised it over a year ago at a Senate Select Committee hearing in Melbourne. He suggested the government provides free access to a basic internet service that included public services.

Industry analyst Paul Budde agrees that we should be working towards a free government network, available to all households through the National Broadband Network. For example, e-health services could be available to all, without needing to connect to a commercial retail service provider.

Simon Hackett, managing director of Internode, is less convinced about the idea of a direct connection for government services. He says we only have one network in the home, which means only one connection to the NBN.

Paul Brooks from Layer 10 Advisory disagrees, arguing that we have multiple networks into the home — television, our phone, internet. A government-provided network could be another one.

This week I ask whether we need free government services for everyone to realise meaningful benefits from the NBN and, if so, why is no one doing anything about it?

Running time: 31 minutes, 51 seconds

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