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

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?