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Labor wins: industry speaks

The major players in Australia's telecommunications and IT industries were out in force yesterday to comment on the news that Labor had won the numbers it needed to form government and that therefore, its flagship National Broadband Network (NBN) project would go ahead.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor

The major players in Australia's telecommunications and IT industries were out in force yesterday to comment on the news that Labor had won the numbers it needed to form government and that therefore, its flagship National Broadband Network (NBN) project would go ahead.

The first cab off the rank was Telstra.

"We congratulate the government on its re-election and will continue to engage constructively across our many areas of common interest, including working towards finalising definitive agreements with NBN Co and the government," the telco said in a statement.

Optus issued a similar statement, but went into more detail about how much it supported Labor's plans.

"As acknowledged by both MPs, broadband is crucial to Australia's future prosperity and fibre is indisputably the best way to deliver high-speed broadband for the long term," said Maha Krishnapillai, Optus director of government and corporate affairs. "As Tony Windsor said and we agree: 'You build it once. You build it right. You build it with fibre.'"

Optus saw the Labor win as an endorsement for the long-term NBN solution, as well as endorsement for the need for an overhaul of the current regulatory structure in Australia. "We believe that the telco reform Bill — including the structural separation of Telstra and greater power for the ACCC to enforce a level playing field in the fixed line market — must be a priority for the new government," said Krishnapillai.

Internode managing director Simon Hackett, a long-time supporter of the NBN project, said that fibre all the way to the premises had always been the best and most future-proof direction for Australian broadband. "It's a large investment, but surely the improved future prospects it will bring for our children makes it worth that investment. I'm glad it's going to go ahead," he said.

Lobby group Digital Tasmania said it was "relieved" by the election outcome. "Consumers and business in Tasmania stand to benefit greatly from the NBN going ahead. They will go from having the poorest broadband services in the country to the best within four years," said spokesperson Andrew Connor.

"There are huge job opportunities for civil works and data communications, as well as complementary fields such as training. To cancel the NBN and stick with current and old technologies would have sent Australia's broadband infrastructure back by five to 10 years."

Connor added that all independent members of parliament recognised broadband infrastructure as a key issue for their electorates and the country.

Telecommunications commentator Michael Wyres, who writes a popular blog on technology, said that he believed the return on investment for the NBN would repay Australia over the life of the network.

"When the electricity grid was first built, nobody could ever have envisaged televisions, microwave ovens and computers, but none of these things would have been possible without the electricity grid," he said.

"The future technologies that the NBN will allow cannot possibly be imagined right now, just as television, microwave ovens and computers could never have been imagined 100 years ago. However, anyone who can't imagine that technologies that will be as equally world-changing as these will not be conceived in the coming years has zero ability for insight."

The Communications Alliance, which represents much of the telco sector, said it was pleased to see clarity in the political situation. The group's CEO John Stanton also welcomed the fact that the broadband debate featured so heavily in the policy priorities for all parties and hoped that this augured well for the new parliament.

One of the briefest responses came from iiNet chief executive Michael Malone on Twitter. "Oh goodie. We're going to have an NBN," he wrote.

The IT industry

It wasn't just Australia's telecommunications sector that welcomed the news, however. The information technology industry was also effusive in its praise of the election result.

Google's head of engineering Alan Noble agreed with Optus' sentiments on the importance of broadband to the election, and added that the search giant looked forward to working with Gillard and her team.

"The NBN will underpin Australia's digital economy and will be just as vital an enabler of innovation, economic growth and entrepreneurship in the 21st century as national highways and the electric grid were in the 20th century. Simply put, it means a world of opportunities for all Australians," Noble said.

Intel's Australian chief Phil Cronin said the company was already on the record as saying high-speed broadband would be a critical platform for building the digital economy in Australia. "We welcome today's news. It will allow the IT industry, and the business community in general, to plan with confidence," he said.

A Microsoft spokesperson said Australia needed a ubiquitous high-speed broadband network to boost the nation's productivity and enhance its global competitiveness.

"This infrastructure will be critical in the years ahead and essential for reducing costs in health and education service delivery. It will also contribute to overcoming the tyranny of distance that exists in rural and regional Australia," they said.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), which represents many technology companies in Australia, said that it supported the election result, but that there was still work to be done.

"Given the high level of significance of the broadband issue, and in particular its resonance with the independents, we now expect to see the roll-out of the NBN prioritised in this government's term," said AIIA CEO Ian Birks.

The AIIA has also called for the government to hold a digital economy implementation summit to be held with major industry representatives within the first 90 days of taking office.

"We must put in place new policy, incentive and investment levers to drive much higher levels of innovation through the adoption of technology by all businesses, large and small, if we are to realise the real benefits on offer," said Birks.

"To deliver these benefits, both a broad community and business awareness campaign promoting the value of digital economy applications and services must be established, but more significantly, a significant policy investment must be made in order to realise a return on the investment being made in infrastructure."

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