Speed confusion dogs Coalition broadband policy

Liberal party will provided "minimum peak speeds" of 12Mbps, but Tony Smith remains unable to qualify his statements

While the Liberal party has finally released its broadband policy, confusion continues to rein over what exactly an Abbott-led government would deliver in communications.

The party’s alternative to the Gillard Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) will provide up to $6.25 billion in joint public-private investment and grant funding for the optimisation of existing DSL networks, the building of an open access fibre backhaul, a satellite network and the creation of two wireless networks designed for rural/regional areas as well as outer metropolitan areas. The policy is aimed at removing competition bottlenecks in the telecommunications industry and pitting several technologies against one another in the hopes of lowering end-user costs and raising technological standards over time.

However, the Liberal party has thus far been unable to commit to what speeds will be delivered to the end-user and under which technologies.

In delivering the policy, shadow communications minister, Tony Smith said that, under an Abbott Government, 97 per cent of Australians would receive a “minimum peak speed” of 12 megabits per second (Mbps). Smith was unable to qualify the statement, which appears oxymoronic as a network is unable to deliver both minimum and peak speeds at the same level.

Technology journalists repeatedly questioned Smith at the Australian Computer Society’s (ACS) ICT Policy Forum held directly after the broadband policy’s unveiling, but the Liberal MP remained unable to provide a clear answer.

“We are saying this is a minimum floor, but this is technology that is improving and evolving all the time,” he said. “We’ve said 12Mbps peak speed quite deliberately; we’re not over promising.

“These speeds will continue to evolve, there will be new benchmarks going forward.”

One of the key last mile aspects of the Liberal party’s broadband policy, DSL optimisation, will see the government provide $750 million in funding to upgrade delapidated telephone exchanges with ADSL2+ equipment. ADSL2+ provides a theoretical peak speed of 24Mbps downstream but, due to the nature of the technology, diminishes in speed the further one is from an exchange, which results in most users having an average speed of 8 or 9Mbps.

Smith said the other last mile access method, wireless broadband, is currently capped at 12Mbps, likely referring to the same 802.16d WiMAX standard the Howard Government pushed in its terminated OPEL project. Newer versions of the technology, such as the 802.16e rolled out in Perth under service provider vividwireless, are able to deliver much higher speeds of up to 36Mbps in some cases, but remain unable to deliver consistent speeds.

Smith also continued to push hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable networks - which are not part of the Liberals’ broadband policy - as a viable last mile access technology, providing 100Mbps speeds through DOCSIS 3.0 technology over Telstra and Optus-owned networks.

“With these technologies rolling out you’ll see more fibre deployment, you’ll see more possibilities with copper, you’ll see HFC networks which themselves have been upgraded providing competition across the platforms and in ways we haven’t seen yet because of the situation," he said.

“What we’re doing, and we make no apology for it, is investing in the platform. We’ve got a $6 billion plan, it’s very significant.”

The Greens’ Ludlam and Senator Conroy were quick to point out that the Labor party had initially promised 12Mbps as part of its election commitments during the 2007 campaign between Kevin Rudd and John Howard.

Conroy slammed Smith for the Liberal party’s lack of vision on future-proofing such a network.

“Australian kids cannot afford to wait to catch up with what Japanese, South Korean, Singapore, Hong Kong kids are going to get,” he said. “Australian kids deserve the best education as fast as possible. Not in ten years’ time.

“David Kennedy, a former Liberal party advisor, now a senior analyst at Ovum, [said] ‘when you look at the countries around the world that are pursuing next generation networks, fibre is still the gold standard’.

“Go and get David back.”

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Tags broadbandFederal Election 2010National Broadband Commission (NBC)

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