Broadband ... it's time to take the glasses off

Broadband ... it's time to take the glasses off

Summary: It must be nice to view the world through rose-coloured glasses as Communications Minister Helen Coonan seems to.


It must be nice to view the world through rose-coloured glasses as Communications Minister Helen Coonan seems to.

Despite damning reports on Australia's broadband and ICT infrastructure investment in the past fortnight, Senator Coonan still gives the incumbent government a good report card.

In the face of the studies, Senator Coonan's positive spin is beyond belief -- if you forget that it's an election year of course.

First the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) slammed the government's record on infrastructure investment as well as our broadband access rates and download speeds.

According to CEDA, Australia ranks 23 out of the 32 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries when it comes to access rates, and last in download speeds.

And what was the response from Coonan's department? "It is incorrect to suggest that government policy has turned Australia into a technology laggard," bleated a spokesperson for Senator Coonan in a prepared response to the report. The spokesperson also said the Howard government was spearheading several policy initiatives to tackle the broadband divide in the near future.

If the CEDA report wasn't embarrassing enough for Australia, an OECD study the following week, which claimed that our broadband was among the world's worst, was surely the icing on the cake.

The OECD study found that Australia's broadband was among the world's most expensive and among the slowest. In terms of download speeds Australia was second from the bottom, beaten by powerhouses such as Poland, Belgium and Mexico.

Pretty serious problems indeed, yet Senator Coonan sidestepped the debate and congratulated us Australians on our relatively high level of domain registrations per capita.

"This is an outstanding achievement considering the particular challenges of providing telecommunications access at fair prices over a vast continent with a small population," Senator Coonan said.

Fair prices ... for whom is the question. We pay among the highest prices for a service that hardly qualifies as broadband -- in comparison to the US, Korea or UK for example. While the definition of what is broadband is debatable it certainly isn't the speed that we have (to put up with) in Australia.

If the government is not to blame, and this appears to be Senator Coonan's belief, then who is? Please step up Telstra is the cry. Yet, arguably Australia's biggest telco was only fully privatised last year, before that it was a "public" asset.

However, the intention of your writer is not to apportion blame, it's to get all the players involved in building a decent broadband infrastructure -- fast and competitively priced -- to step up to the plate before we are well and truly left behind.

It could be argued that this is already the case. Indeed we are a laughing-stock on the world stage -- if the CEDA and OECD reports are anything to go by. A note to Senator Coonan, Telstra, et al: not all of us look at the world from behind rose-coloured glasses.

What do you think? Is it too late for Australia to build a first-class broadband infrastructure? Does Senator Coonan need to face the (real) facts? Are we a laughing-stock on the world stage?

Topics: Broadband, Telcos, Telstra, NBN

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  • Last or second to last?

    Hi Scott,

    In your article you state Australia has the slowest download speeds, but then later on you say it was second from bottom in this? Can you clarify?

    Having looked at the report myself, I was under the impression that it was indeed second to last, beating only the Slovak Republic?
  • Enterprise ICT?

    What does this article have to do with enterprise issue?
  • Broadband in Australia

    Well, well...the chicken has finally come home to roost !

    Some years ago as I (and many others in my neighbourhood) were arguing with Telstra, Sen. Alston, the ACCC, and the TIO about the farce relating to internet access (let alone not being able to get broadband access !!) we were fobbed off with the usual rhetoric and some political 'doublespeak' about the state of ICT in this country. We were collectively insulted by the replies which included Telstra's "Customer Service Obligation" statement which guaranteed 1.4K connectivity across a domestic phone line (NOTE the decimal point in there !!) - instead of actually admitting the problem was with R.I.M installations in new suburban developments.
    Do we actually expect to get to the truth of thie matter now ?
    Are people actually surprised, stunned and shocked at these latest revelations ??

    Wake up Australia - we don't have a 'largest Telco' - we have only ONE Telco from whom everyone else must buy it's share of the bandwidth - and for as long as this situation continues, we get what we deserve.
  • Are we a laughing-stock on the world stage?

    Just an observation from the real world Scott. I work on a construction site in the central west of NSW 320km from Sydney and 20 km from the nearest town of any size (pop 9,000). We are involved with a project where most of the technology comes from Italy. We have two Italian engineers working with us on the project. They were amazed that they could communicate with their head office in Japan through a broadband connection out in the middle of a drought ravaged paddock here. Their main office is located west of Venice in Italy and they say they don't have the capability there that we have here. This just doesn't add up to what you are saying I'm afraid.

    Things could be better I suppose, but when I moved here 20 years ago we were on a manual exchange - our number was 13. The present system, however, allows us to send large amounts of photos, reports and technical publications back and forth to our offices in Newcastle, NSW and Melbourne, Vic as well as Japan and Italy.

    My question is 'are things in the real world as bad as you say' or am I deluding myself.
  • I'll second that...

    Well said. And now even though technology has moved ahead Telstra still have dismal guarantees of connectivity.... an 8Mb/384K plan for instance (one of, if not the fastest residential broadband plans available in regional Australia at the moment) comes with a service guarantee of only 1.5Mb. Many factors determine your actual speed and distance from the exchange is one of them. Well I'm across the road from the exchange and are lucky to get 3Mb most of the time. Welcome Opel and welcome competition and a brand new infrastructure I say.
  • Same-old same-old

    Good article but failed to point out any actual remedy. Obviously the sheer dollar amount to bring it up to scratch would make even Bill G scratch his left testicle in thought - and then decline on the major spend-up required.
  • Don't blame the Federal Government

    For the past eight years I've spent a annual total of about 6 months in New Zealand and Canadian regional areas.

    During that time it's been quite depressing to compare Australia's internet facilities with what's available elsewhere.

    However, I think your article is very wrong to lay the blame on the Australian Federal Government. After all, it's done everything it can, and had to fight every inch of the way, to try to transform Telstra from an obstructive, lazy, feather-bedded, money-gouging, protected public service monopoly into a modern competitive telco.

    Any initiative's been strongly resisted by the unions, the media and scaremongering in the rural lobby.

    The emergence of the G9 at least puts some light at the end of the tunnel (and I'm a Telstra shareholder!).

    Let's give the government credit for what it's been able to achieve and let's support it getting on with the job.

    I see Labor's vague broadband promise only as a thinly disguised plan to revert back to the Telstra union-dominated bad old days.
  • Broadband in Australia

    We sure do have only one telco and we deserve it. I remember not long ago when optus was rolling out fiber in my street in Adelaide and a hand full of people decided that this one cable made the other four on the stobie pole look dreadful. Well the cable is still there out front of the house and and many suburbs and useless because nobody said that (I'm assuming FTTP) was worthwhile.
  • Yes you are deluding yourself

    [quote]My question is 'are things in the real world as bad as you say' or am I deluding myself.[/quote]

    You are basing your assumption that it "aint all that bad" on the feedback from "a couple of italian workers". That is hardly a solid ground.

    Try doing some reading into how the rest of western Europe fairs with speed and price, oh and if you really want to cringe do some research into Singapore or Japan.

  • Easily clarified, please read the article again.

    There are TWO different reports. According to CEDA, Australia is last. According to OECD, Australia is second last.

    Its all there.

  • You are deluding yourself

    I am often amazed that with a government owned company how people expect it to be world class. The concept is a contradiction in terms think about it - Government - world class are about as far away apart as.............sorry can't think that big.
    Trouble is in our own little part of the world unless you know people overseas or came here as a recent migrant you wouldn't know any better.
  • Broadband: Australia's Loch Ness Monster

    I keep hearing about these great new broadband speeds but are they fact or fiction? What does it matter if we are last or second to last? It's STILL the bottom of the barrel. I'm on Dodo's unlimited 512/128 plan and while downloads are unlimited, it is NOT 512K and never has been!!! Not even close! I'm so sick of being lied to and having sub-standard technology in this country. We don't even begin to have the fancy gadgets that the rest of the world enjoys. I got asked by an American if we have salt in Australia? That's what the world thinks of us down here. We are an absolute joke. I don't care who fixes it - JUST FIX IT!!!
  • A letter I wrote to Helen Coonan last week

    To The Hon Helen Coonan

    Dear Minister,

    I am writing this letter because I have a vested interest in the ongoing success of the Australian information technology and telecommunications industry, and a broader interest in ensuring Australia has a viable future supported by modern broadband telecommunications. I am an IT consultant and I rely on the innovation, growth, development and international competitiveness of our industry for my ongoing career. The broadband infrastructure of this country not only provides the framework for my own career but also for competitive industry, service delivery, rich media content, learning opportunities and modern telecommunications.

    I am disappointed in the lack of progress and vision I have witnessed recently from all quarters of government - both acting and opposition. We are now in a situation where the majority of business and individuals rely on a single privately owned monopoly to deliver broadband services - be it directly or through providing the infrastructure for other companies to re-sell. Lack of innovation and the risks associated with relying on our current infrastructure are limiting factors for many business. The core of our existing infrastructure has not been developed, as it has in other countries with similar wealth, and instead we are left with a copper wire based system and band-aid technology solutions that attempt to turn our existing infrastructure into something that is it not. I have lived and worked in the UK and Europe and America where broadband capabilities are far superior and yet prices are relatively lower.

    Proposed solutions of the Government and opposition offer improvements to the sad state of this important enabler of industry and individuals. The proposal to provide 'fibre to node' is the technology equivalent of building a six lane highway that ends in a muddy goat track - in broadband the only real value added solution is an end to end solution, and copper wire has no place in a modern solution. The broadband providing industry has previously demonstrated its willingness to profit from sub standard service and speed levels while being openly unenthusiastic about the development of technologies to improve services for the country. While there are no viable alternatives available for consumers in this country there seems little incentive for profit oriented telecommunications countries to outlay the costs of infrastructure development for the benefit of all.

    I understand there are unique challenges that Australia faces in relation to the distances a network must span. Also our existing ownership of Telstra means the Government can no longer direct Telstra to proceed in the best interests of non-share holders and it also means that a large percentage of existing infrastructure is controlled by a self-interested entity.

    I believe that the Government needs to take responsibility away from the private sector, which has been given ample opportunity to make real improvement, and ensure telecommunication infrastructure this country requires is implemented. I have some understanding of the costs involved and know they are substantial, but I believe that when compared to the opportunity cost of proceeding with our backward networks and technology limiting infrastructure, this money would be well spent and received the support of the Australian people. As is the case with other critical resources, the government should regulate and licence the use of the infrastructure amongst telecommunications service providers, ensuring competitiveness in the industry, and ultimately delivering benefits to Australian tax payers through vastly improved quality of infrastructure, growth in our industries and ensuring a quality of living that includes first world internet capabilities. Even seemly unrelated issues such as remote education, transport and health could all derive many benefits should a proper solution be delivered. The returns on invest
  • Lefties are to blame, ultimately

    Correct. The old Telstra MONOPOLY was/is all about jobs/union memberships (most were totally unnecessary & many still are).

    As we all know, Telstra`s copper wire ownership/reseller monopoly chokes off thegenuine competition which would have prevented this pathetic b/b scenario.

    Full privatisation - without ongoing protection from the force-for-good of fierce competitors offering real consumer choice - is the only antidote to the Telstra S-C-A-M visited upon "Joe Consumer". All to featherbed very many telco union jobs.

    Ergo, the constituent Left & coercive Union power are at the actual seat of the problem. You reap what you sew.
  • To the letter writer

    Well done and you speak on behalf of thousands of australians!
  • They're not rose coloured...

    They're not rose coloured glasses Coonan is wearing, they must be blacked-out because I don't think she's seeing the real state of broadband in Australia.