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As Australia steps aside, who will pick up the broadband torch?

Australia has a new government, so its days rolling out the biggest fibre-to-the-home network are numbered as it moves to fibre to the node. Where will a world leader in broadband come from next?
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

As Australia's fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout concludes, a new global broadband leader is needed.

It was big, it was bold, and the world had never seen the likes of it before — a continental network upgrade that promised to bring 1Gbps speeds to 93 percent of the population and undo years of government regulatory failure.

For each element of Australia's government-owned National Broadband Network (NBN) that was grand, visionary, and future proof, there was always the looming spectre of slow progress, questionable reporting of numbers, and issues with Telstra.

With the election of a centre-right conservative government last weekend, any dream that Australia collectively holds of a FttP network is dead, buried, and cremated.

Manifesting in place of the FttP will be a fibre-to-the-node network that would not be out of place at the current time across the United States, England, Canada, or even New Zealand. The only difference now being that instead of consumers having the ability to take advantage of such technology today, Australians will still be waiting a number of years to take advantage of today's technology.

That was the big promise of the FttP network; instead of belatedly catching up to the rest of the world, it was a rare opportunity to show some forward thinking from a government, and leap-frog much of the world in connectivity.

Australia, as a large country with a sparse population, is rightly often compared to Canada across a number of endeavours. But now, in terms of broadband connectivity on offer, the antipodes must hang their heads in shame.

A resident of Timmins, a town of 43,000 people in the northern part of Ontario, has a better opportunity to take advantage of high-speed broadband than most residents across Sydney, Australia's largest city and a city that claims to be a world city.

For the next three years, any Australians not lucky enough to be among the 22 percent that are expected to gain access to fibre services will only have an upgrade to 25Mbps to look forward to. Meanwhile, their compatriots among the lucky 22 percent will be able to access services 40 times that speed.

The new government will not be able to put the brakes on the NBN project immediately, thanks to a number of construction contracts needing to be seen out, but over the next year, the incoming Communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will be putting in place plans to re-engineer the project in his preferred image.

Until that time, Australia's largest ever infrastructure project will still be an exemplar in how to improve a lagging country's connectivity.

It's been four years of showing the world the way, but now circumstances and new governments dictate that it is time to hand the torch over to someone else as Australia returns to the status of broadband also-ran.

Whomever it is, it is doubtful that entity will be a government, as the majority of network deployments across the globe are handled by private entities.

It will take the likes of Google to announce a nationwide rollout of Google Fiber to compare to the scale of the NBN.

An American nation-wide fibre network offering 1Gbps as a standard connection and an alternative free tier of connectivity at 5Mbps, the current average Australian broadband speed, that would truly be a worthy successor to the NBN's mantle.

Now it's up to the invisible hand of the market to deliver it.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.

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