Labor NBN obsession crippled digital economy talk: Turnbull

New Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says it is possible to enjoy the benefits of the digital economy without having to possess a fibre connection to the premises.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The rhetoric of the former Australian federal government, which could be summarised as "a noun, a verb, NBN", held back the way that it approached the digital economy, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said today.

In an address in Sydney this morning, Turnbull stressed that the incoming Abbott government would be following a mantra that the benefits of the digital economy are not coupled with the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The minister said that after embarking on such a large infrastructure project with minimal analysis, everything said by the former Labor government about the digital economy was framed in a way that would look to justify the NBN.

"The government would say 'e-commerce, fantastic! This will be enabled by the NBN', 'Small Australian butcher shops in Hobart exporting meat across Australia, enabled by the NBN', so it was as though none of the benefits of the internet would be available to you, other than through the government's own National Broadband Network.

"And that was always just so much nonsense.

"More discerning people recognise that, but in a way it crippled the way the [former] Australian government approached this issue."

Turnbull said that one aspect of the digital economy that businesses are being forced to address is the increasing use of mobile devices by customers, many of whom are "living on their smartphones".

"I certainly live on my smartphone, I am a tragic in that respect," he said.

"There is where, of course, saying 'none of the joys and opportunities of the internet are available until you get the NBN, when you get a fibre cable to your house' is just so wrong-headed, because it is out there happening now in the wireless platforms, which do require a lot of fibre in the backhaul, and is becoming more important than ever."

A report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week showed that while mobile data is seeing the largest growth of any form of connectivity, it still pales in comparison to the amount of data downloaded via fixed-line connections.

In the three months until June this year, mobile data accounted for 19.6 petabytes, while data downloaded via fixed-line broadband totalled 630 petabytes.

Looking at the success of public transit applications that are able to use recently opened government datasets, Turnbull said that the government should set an example for digital engagement through policy, such as the Coalition's previously announced digital mailbox.

"We really should get to a point where, before too long, all of citizens' engagement with government can be affected digitally. That's not how it has to be, but that should be feasible," he said.

"We are going to offer a free electronic mailbox to all citizens, which will be, if they choose, the destination for all of their government correspondence."

Turnbull said that the platform would be available for free to state and local governments.

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