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Election rant reply 1: wireless greed

As many pigs have discovered over time, heading straight for the feeding trough without keeping a watchful eye out for the farmer's axe can lead one to feeling that they're high on the hog when they're actually a pig in a poke.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor on

commentary As many pigs have discovered over time, heading straight for the feeding trough without keeping a watchful eye out for the farmer's axe can lead one to feeling that they're high on the hog when they're actually a pig in a poke.

David Braue has committed to writing one technology-related election rant for each business day until the Federal Election on 21 August.

Braue correctly makes the argument that the wireless aspect of the Coalition's broadband policy completely ignores a number of technological realities that will ultimately come back to haunt the party over the next few years as it attempts to implement the ideas.

It is obvious to anyone with even a smidgeon of technical experience that mobile broadband (think of the 3G networks that we have today, the incoming long-term evolution upgrades or even the WiMax networks that Australian companies like Unwired, and now vividwireless, have attempted to build in Australia) simply cannot replace fixed broadband in Australia's future.

Forget the latency and throughput needs of medical, education and video-on-demand applications. Wireless broadband is crap for online gaming, and with Blizzard Entertainment unwilling to host World of Warcraft servers in Australia, Generation Y just isn't going to put up with a wireless future, as Macquarie University student Cassie put to Tony Abbott in no uncertain terms at the Rooty Hill RSL recently.

Certainly it's ludicrous that the Coalition wants to quarantine the spectrum shortly to be unleashed by the imminent demise of the analog TV signal. It's called the "digital dividend" for a reason; it needs to be divvied out so that Australia's mobile networks have some kind of hope in hell of continuing to function when the iPhone 5 (and 6, 7 and 8) hit our sunny shores.

But the problem is that in focusing too strongly on the fallacy of the Coalition's wireless broadband policies, Braue has completely ignored the fact that it's not the Opposition that has gotten most greedy when it comes to broadband — it's Labor.

The Coalition's wireless idea may be a turkey, but at least it's a cheap one: $1 billion for an outer metropolitan wireless broadband network and another $1 billion for the same in regional Australia. That's $2 billion in total.

In comparison, nobody really knows how much Labor will need to spend running fibre out to every nook and cranny of Australia. The initial plan during the last election was a mere $4.7 billion (still more than twice the cost of the Coalition's wireless policy), but only five months later it had ballooned to $43 billion, a figure that appears to have been drawn up on the back of an envelope in KRudd's private jet.

Estimates, admittedly outlandish ones, go all the way up to $80 billion for the full NBN roll-out, and despite NBN Co's deal with Telstra about taking some cost out and the usual economies of scale, few people think the NBN is going to cost anything much south of $30 billion.

Yes, clearly it is not the Coalition that is committing the sin of greed when it comes to telecommunications policies during the 2010 Federal Election. It is Labor whose eyes are bigger than its stomach.

Labor's recent election ads portraying Joe Hockey as some kind of corpulent Buddha-cum-oriental-martial-arts-master and accusing Abbott's coalition of "unrelenting greed" start to look a little hypocritical when you realise that it's the slender Julia Gillard and the soccer nut Stephen Conroy that are actually hoarding all the pies.

The Coalition's wireless policy is silly, poorly thought out and might slam the brakes on the currently rapid development of Australia's mobile broadband networks, but at least it's cheap. As they say in start-up companies, fail often and fail early. Let the Coalition quickly discover how futile its wireless policy truly is in government.

It might take a year and $1 billion to do so. But compared to the tens of billions of dollars of debt Labor will saddle our children with if it wins a mandate to build the NBN, the Coalition's wireless policies will cost pocket change that Australia can at least afford to splurge.

As Tony Abbott told the Rooty Hill RSL recently, after wiping the floor with Labor's brave redhead leader, everyone wants to drive a really fantastic car. But in Australia's case, it's more important to buy the car that we can actually afford.

Renai LeMay is writing responses to David Braue's series of election rants, one for each of the deadly sins and each of the seven days that are remaining until the election. This piece responds to Braue's wireless greed rant.

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