Since the government is unlikely to offer citizens a separate free internet connection to government services via the National Broadband Network (NBN), access to government content should be free to all retail service providers, Internode has told Federal MPs.
"For the government to realise the benefits of the NBN it must recognise that internet services delivered by the NBN will be delivered to each premises by a single retail service provider. The idea that users would disconnect their computer from their internet provider and plug in to the government internet feed is absurd," Internode's general manager of regulatory and corporate affairs John Lindsay told a House of Representatives committee on the NBN in Adelaide today.
Lindsay said that, given internet service providers (ISPs) would play a role in delivering government services to the public, providers seeking to gain access to the content must not be subject to a "toll" by the network owner where the data is held.
"The key requirement is that government service content be delivered to all retail service providers at key locations at no cost. The easiest way to achieve that would be for government agencies to require that hosting and connectivity providers 'peer' government content to all NBN retail service providers," Lindsay said.
"Peering" is the term given to the exchange of data between networks. Network providers often have agreements in place to exchange data for free or for a fee. Under the proposal, owners of the network containing the government data, such as Telstra or Optus, would be required to let other providers access that content without charging a fee. Lindsay said that peering was a "phenomenally powerful" tool for ISPs — but only if there is no charge.
"There are already a variety of internet peering exchanges in Australia and these could be used simply and cheaply. Internode is the provider to the South Australian government and does this today. Any service provider who peers at the Pipe peering point in Adelaide can access all government, health and education content at no additional cost. Internode accesses ACT, New South Wales and Victorian government content via public peering exchanges today," he said.
"Mandating free peering for government agency hosting arrangements would have no real impact on the cost of providing these services and will ensure that Australians are able to use the next generation of higher bandwidth services economically," he said.
As users begin to consume more data on the NBN, accessing government content from networks that charge a "toll" would be more cost-prohibitive for ISPs, Lindsay warned.
"The scaling up of traffic going to become a significant barrier to the use of high volume content if it can be placed behind a toll booth," he said. "The service providers who own that toll booth will have an opportunity to make an extraordinary profit."