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Wednesday, 18 May 2011 20:46

NBN gets mainlined into electoral consciousness


The first mainland NBN site gets switched on, the headlines scream. In the sleepy NSW town of Armidale, heartland of former National Party turned ALP Government flack Tony Windsor. Whether broadband for the bush or a billion for a hospital in Tassie, Australians now know the truth about politics in this land.

The fact is, politics is a dirty game and everyone is out for his/her own piece of glory.  Seeing Tony Windsor's grinning face at the launch of the Armidale ribbon cutting ceremony, alongside Julia and Stephen, was a reminder that politicians are human.

In Tony Windsor's case, it wasn't about representing the hopes and aspirations of his predominantly conservative electorate, who would have otherwise voted for the National candidate. It was about getting through the next three years as a well-paid and disproportionally powerful, important man.

And today, Tony Windsor got his reward - Armidale was the first mainland site in Australia to get fibred up for the NBN.

Normally you would have expected a major regional centre to be the first port of call for the mainland NBN - but no it had to be Tony Windsor territory.

Armidale is a town of 25,000 or so - not insubstantial. So far 7 people have been connected and we're told that 3,000 or so Armidale residents will be on the NBN in the not too distant future.

As far as cost is concerned, well that's not our concern is it?

After all, us city and major regional centre dwellers - the 90% (or is that 93%) of the population - we'll just have to be content with what we've got for the time being while the marginal electorates in the bush get the super fast stuff.

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The reason is that certain electorates in the bush are more important than us city folk - they're represented by independents that can be bought.

However, not to worry, in the scheme of things, what we city folk have is not really too bad (unless you live in Tasmania). Most of us have access to quite reasonable and in many cases excellent broadband services.

Yes, it's true that South Korea and Japan have purportedly better networks - too bad! Their geography is worlds apart from ours.

Compared to the US and Europe, despite claims to the contrary, what the vast majority of us have here in Australia is comparable or better. I'm a traveller - I know this for a fact.

And we're doing this on a mixture or copper, fibre, HFC, and wireless.

Anyone who seriously thinks that we need to spend AUD$40-80 billion to rip out perfectly good existing copper, fibre and HFC networks and replace them with fibre at taxpayer expense should think again.

What we have works for most of us. By all means let's upgrade it gradually but ripping it all out is akin to tearing down a perfectly good solid functional home to build a McMansion.

The HFC is a case in point. It works and works well - many of us use it quite happily without complaint. The same thing holds true for the copper network, although there is admittedly a maintenance issue.

Sure, these things should and will be upgraded and replaced with fibre over time. But right now for most of us they work.

In the end what it all boils down to is money.

Yes, the mining boom is bestowing huge benefits on certain sectors of Australia's economy. Meanwhile the rest of the country just isn't doing so well (ask retailers for instance).

In the midst of this China driven resources boom, Australia is running a deficit and a sizeable national debt.

If the Government is serious about returning our budget to surplus by 2012/2013, can Australia really afford to blow $40,50,60 billion on faster broadband that 90% or more of us don't need at this point in time?

If your answer to that question is yes, I would suggest that you're a diehard politico or a person with a vested interest in selling broadband related products or services.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.



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