Aussie business echoes NZ broadband debate

Australia's A$162.5 million Broadband Guarantee programme will start this month, says ICT Minister

Across the ditch, enterprises are making the same noises about broadband as we are hearing here in New Zealand. They do not care which side of the political divide provides Australia with fast broadband, they just want it to happen now.

While Australia’s ICT industry has welcomed debate by both major political parties it has also escalated calls for action by Liberals and the Labor Party to make broadband a national priority.

Jonathan Kerr, e-commerce general manager of car insurance provider, Budget Direct, says slow broadband is costing Australia money and hampering the growth of online services.

For example, in the United Kingdom, Kerr says 8MB of unlimited download connectivity can be purchased for less than A$35 (NZ$39) a month.

He says “real broadband” in the UK is available to businesses at highly competitive rates.

“All businesses have to offer their products online if they expect to compete going forward. But online commerce in Australia is hampered,” Kerr says.

“The telcos have been allowed to sell 512kbit/s speed as real broadband while the rest of the developed world was experiencing the service quality of true broadband connectivity ranging anywhere between 1Mb to 24Mb lines.

“Lack of real broadband in Australia has slowed online commerce and ultimately helped traditional businesses maintain higher offline prices longer.”

Kerr says that in the UK more than 50% of car insurance policies are sold online, compared to 10% in Australia.

He says plans for the Federal Government to introduce broadband for the first time to rural areas under the Broadband Connect programme cannot be described as “high speed”.

“It isn’t fast enough and the prices are not low enough to encourage broadband take-up,” Kerr says.

“The best way to remedy the situation in Australia is through government intervention at an infrastructure level, backed up with a commitment to let open competition develop, for the supply of broadband at a retail level.

“Telstra has the capacity to do more but unless it is compelled to do so through genuine competition, the pace of change will remain painfully slow.”

Last week Australian ICT Minister Helen Coonan said the government is set to announce the winning tender to provide broadband services to rural and regional areas under the A$600 million Broadband Connect programme.

Coonan said it will be “announced shortly” and also confirmed that the new A$162.5 million Australian Broadband Guarantee programme will also be up and running this month.

The government will use the announcement to take some of the shine off the Labor Opposition’s announcement last week that it will invest A$4.7 billion on a new high-speed network that will give Australians access to speeds 40 times faster than those available today.

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