Helen Coonan's fact hunt

In the broadband war, it seems, everyone has an opinion and those with a vested interest are playing fast and loose with the truth.
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

commentary In the broadband war, it seems, everyone has an opinion and those with a vested interest are playing fast and loose with the truth.

Been enjoying the to-ing and fro-ing about the government's planned WiMax network? The "can you cook your meat pies while you use the Internet" stoush? The topographical fisticuffs? The installation costs that seemed to drop AU$750 overnight?

Facts have become somewhat of a commodity in the WiMax discussion. First and worst offender: the government, of course.

While I can't claim to be an authority on how WiMax performs on range and bandwidth — who can? — some of the government's so-called facts about where the technology is being rolled out immediately rung alarm bells.

Senator Helen Coonan has been proclaiming that "the US, Canada, Denmark, Austria, South Africa, the UK and India" are all using WiMax for high-speed broadband. As a native of the UK, the claims about that particular country had me scratching my head.

One newspaper even went a step farther, saying "British Telecom has chosen WiMAX standard technology". This is bending the truth to breaking point. It is not rolling out the technology currently and a BT exec told journalists recently that the telco had not even made up its mind whether to bid for spectrum when it became available and had no definite plans to deploy WiMax in the future.

Yes, it has trialled the standard and is a member of the WiMax Forum but it is not a WiMax provider. Saying BT is rolling out WiMax is a little like saying Bill Clinton is a stoner when he admitted "I smoked but I didn't inhale".

The UK does have a WiMax network in the form of provider Pipex Wireless, but it is still in its infancy, with real-world deployments only running in two small towns. Parallels can't be drawn with what Australia plans to do with the technology and those who are drawing them are lulling the electorate into a false sense of security.

And the US, Ms Coonan? Let's delve a little deeper. Yes, the operator Sprint is planning a massive deployment — but that's all it is, a plan, not yet a full roll-out. No customers are using it, no data cards bothering the bandwidth. There are questions hanging over funding and roaming among other niggles (a distinct lack of handsets, for a start) but those issues don't ever seem to figure in the sepia-tinted WiMax world the government lives in.

I am not criticising WiMax as a technology, by any means, merely the elastic "facts" that have been bandied around by those both for and against its deployment. No one has yet rolled out WiMax in the scale that Australia plans to.

As such, it's a gamble. If it's a gamble that will pay off, those involved need to be a little more truthful with their users.

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