The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has reported that Australia's broadband penetration ranking has dropped from 17th to 18th in the last six months, which Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has taken as evidence that Australia needs a National Broadband Network (NBN).
The figures released by the OECD yesterday ranked 31 OECD countries for the six months to 30 June 2010 and placed Australia one spot below New Zealand. According to the statistics, 23.4 per cent of Australians have a fixed-line broadband subscription, compared to 24.5 per cent of New Zealanders.
"The latest figures show Australia is still lagging behind world leaders in access to broadband and is further evidence that Australia has lacked vital investment in fixed-line broadband infrastructure," Conroy said in a statement. "If Australia wants to remain competitive in our region, and as the world moves to a 21st century digital economy, we need to act now. That's why the Gillard Government is getting on with delivering the NBN."
However, in a blog post, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the NBN was to blame for a decline in investment in broadband infrastructure over the past six months.
"The NBN has been hanging over the entire industry for several years now in one form or another — the prospect of being overbuilt is enough to deter anyone from upgrading their existing fixed-line network. And that is just what happened," he said.
Turnbull noted that the OECD reported on a boom in wireless uptake in Australia.
"The story with wireless is quite the reverse. Without the prospect of a massive government monopoly looming, there has been constant investment in new wireless infrastructure to meet demand and again, according to the OECD, we now have nearly twice as many wireless broadband subscriptions (10.3 million) as fixed broadband subscriptions (5.17 million)," he said.
Turnbull said Conroy was "missing the point" — that governments ought to be technology-agnostic, not focused on fixed-line or wireless technology exclusively in ensuring Australians have access to broadband.
According to the OECD statistics, the Netherlands has the highest percentage of broadband subscribers at 37.8 per cent, while Turkey has the lowest broadband penetration at just 9.4 per cent.