So, youâ€™ve heard me bleating about governments interfering with the telecommunications industry once too often, right? Well, in what may a world first, that very same industry may be instrumental in bringing down a government!
You will be forgiven for perhaps not knowing that Australia recently held a national election and that the result, almost two weeks later, is still unknown. The election resulted in a â€˜hungâ€™ parliament with neither the ruling Labor Party, headed by Australiaâ€™s first female Prime Minister and the Liberal/National Party Coalition, headed up by a brash cycling and fitness fanatic most often photographed in Speedo swimming attire, popularly known as â€˜budgie smugglersâ€™ down under. I digress (and no pun intended).
In a nutshell, the Labor Party proposed, legislated and began the rollout of a very ambitious National Broadband Network that would reach 93 per cent of the population and cost a whopping AU$43 billion (US$38.6 billion). In the process, leading quad player and ex-PTT, Telstra would be structurally separated with the NBN Company buying a fair swag of its existing fixed line network. The opposition party, sensing some electoral concern over the cost of the NBN boldly stated that if it came to power it would dump the whole thing!
As the election drew close the Opposition realized that this may not have been a good idea so it came out with its own plan to rollout relatively high-speed internet access to the masses via fixed line, mobile and satellite, using mainly existing infrastructure – at a much lower cost of around AU$6.35 billion and with much lower speeds.
The electorate, probably not too savvy about the speed differences for their internet access, if they even knew what it was, seemed to like the idea of government spending less money and that may have won the Opposition a lot of new votes. But the story doesnâ€™t end there.
The fate of both parties lies in the hands of four successful Independent candidates, three of which are from rural areas that constantly bemoan being under-serviced by telecommunications. One of their main decision factors will certainly be to favor the NBN plan they think best suits their electorates and they have asked both sides to substantiate and support their arguments in this area. Early indications are that they favor the Labor Government plan. But wait, thereâ€™s more!
Just to add some spice to the mix a newly formed grouping of smaller CSPs threw fuel on the fire by proposing a new broadband plan that appears more aligned with the Coalition’s policy than Labor’s national broadband network.
The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported that The Alliance for Affordable Broadband – comprising telcos including Allegro Networks, PIPE Networks, BigAir, Vocus Communications, AAPT, Polyfone and EFTEL – proposes government-subsidized fibre backhaul but recommends connecting the country with a fourth-generation (4G) national wireless broadband network. Whereas Labor’s government-funded plan will connect 93 per cent of homes with fibre-optic cables, the alternative plan, similar to the Coalition’s, will connect homes via a new wireless broadband network. The 4G network would connect 98 per cent of Australians and offer speeds of up to 100Mbps.
Yikes, that was a blow across the bow! Whatever the independents decide, after all that, will determine who wins government. This is one case where â€˜the shoe is, well and truly, on the other foot.â€™ Iâ€™m hoping whoever does win, and governments elsewhere, will have a new found respect for our industry.