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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 168

Mr CREAN (12:34 PM) —As vital as the broadband debate is that we are having at the moment for the future of the nation, it is critical to the development of regional Australia. Access to fast-speed broadband is the great enabling technology for our regions. It will not only enhance their capacity to participate more effectively in the growing economy but also connect them in terms of social infrastructure, educational opportunities and entertainment. We cannot afford to let the regions be left behind.

Just how critical the importance of accessing fast-speed broadband is was established by the Local Government Association in a report presented at its conference last year, the State of the regions report. That report found that the cost of inferior broadband to the regions in 2006 alone was $2.7 billion in forgone gross domestic product and 30,000 regional jobs. That is just for one year.

The simple conclusion to be drawn from that report is that those regions that have fast-speed broadband go ahead; those that do not get left behind. It was against that background that Labor announced its response three months ago, and we have just seen the government’s response in the last week. But the government’s response is an inferior plan. The government’s proposal leaves regional Australia to make do with wireless technologies, not the superior fibre-to-the-node technologies proposed by Labor.

Under the government’s plan, fibre to the node will only be granted to the five mainland capital cities. Not even Hobart gets fibre to the node. Under the government’s plan, we will end up with a two-tiered system. The government cannot guarantee minimum speeds of 12 megabits per second with their wireless network. Labor’s proposal, on the other hand, is for fibre to the node to 98 per cent of the country and, for them, true broadband coverage by fibre to the node. The other two per cent we will deliver through alternative technologies.

Since the government’s announcement, there has been much criticism of the inferiority of what it proposes. News reports today suggest that country residents will be slugged with internet installation bills of up to $1,000, as they have to install satellite dish-like antennas. For this additional cost, what do they get? They get an inferior system—a system which will duplicate existing services, including exchanges which have already been upgraded by Telstra, as well as Telstra’s Next G network.

Apart from the duplication, it is an inferior choice. The OECD have said so. They said the benefits of WiMAX are debateable. It is much slower than fibre. Three top communications experts confirmed yesterday that wireless would always be slower than fibre and could suffer from interference and low quality and that fibre provides the largest bandwidth. Neil Weste from Macquarie University says:

If I was in control I’d have fibre everywhere ...

Andrew Parfitt, the Director of the Institute of Telecommunications in South Australia, says:

There is no question that fibre provides the largest bandwidth, which for outright speeds and a large number of users is clearly a factor.

Dr Eryk Dutkiewicz from the University of Wollongong said:

If I had a choice of fibre or wireless in the home I’d go for fibre straight away, no questions asked.

Why have the government gone for this inferior system—an inferior system that confines regional Australia to a second-class system? It is because they have never thought through this issue. They have gone for a quick fix in response to Labor’s proposal. It is going to cost $1.9 billion in grants to the private sector, with no equity held by the Australian public—grants which duplicate the system. Labor’s proposal for fibre to the node is the superior system by a long shot. (Time expired)