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Labor's broadband plan - will 12Mbps be enough in 2012?

Labor's plan to break Telstra's stranglehold on Australia's broadband infrastructure has a lot of merit, but in five years' time will 12Mbps be enough?

Labor created a stir last week when it proposed the government build a national Fibre to the Node network within five years - ensuring 98 per cent of Australians have internet access of at least 12Mbps. Should it win this year's federal election, Labor intends to contribute $4.7 billion of government money towards the project, with the private sector kicking in as much again.

Today more than 80 per cent of the population already has access to at least 8Mbps, according to telecommunications analyst Market Clarity, reports The Australian.

Telstra's ADSL copper network is already capable of bringing internet services at faster than 12Mbps to 46 per cent of the population and a further 35 per cent could get 8Mbps broadband, according to Market Clarity chief Shara Evans.

The key word there is "capable" - I suspect these figures are what people would have access to *if* Telstra turned on ADSL2+ in every ADSL2+-capable exchange. Unfortunately Telstra refuses to switch on ADSL2+ in an exchange until a competitor does - leaving large slabs of Australia in the slow lane.

CORRECTION: Ms Evans has told IT Wire a further 45 per cent could get 8Mbps, not 35 per cent, and if Telstra switched on all ADSL2+ equipment in every exchange then 91 per cent of people could get up to 24Mbps. In addition to Telstra's DSL network, there are 19 other operators that have deployed DSLAMs, 66 operators of fixed wireless infrastructure and five HFC network owners.

So if 80 91 per cent of Australians could theoretically have at least 8Mbps tomorrow - enough to support the triple play of voice, video and data on the one connection - shouldn't we be aiming for something a little higher in the future? The speed bottleneck in a Fibre to the Node network is the "last mile" - in this case the copper running from the box in the street (the Node) to your home.

Fibre to the Node generally means the "last mile" is no more than 300 metres - under such circumstances ADSL2+ should be able to deliver far more than 12Mbps. The first phase of Canberra's TransACT Fibre to the Curb network - meaning the "last mile" is generally less than 100 metres - used Very high Speed DSL. VDSL offers up to 52Mbps downloads or 26Mbps each way. 

Considering all this, one has to wonder why Labor has set its sights as low as 12Mbps. Still, once we have Fibre to the Node its always possible to upgrade the last mile later or even extend the fibre to the curb and eventually the home. Fibre to the Home rollouts around the world offer from 100Mbps to more than 1Gbps.

So do we need all this bandwidth? On Monday night Tech Talk Radio cited figures quoted by ABC Radio's business editor Peter Ryan;

"Depending on what analyst you talk to, the lack of a high-speed broadband network has cost Australia anywhere between $10 and 30 billion in recent years."

On the other side of the fence, the Sydney Morning Herald's economics editor Ross Gittins says Labor's plan is;

"(a) cynical bribe to the powerful media proprietors and to country voters, and a come-on to punters who want to download their porn faster, disguised as a far-sighted, imaginative initiative to make us internationally competitive in the productivity-oozing new world of e-everything."

Whether you're after hard business benefits or hard core porn, 12Mbps is unlikely to do it for you in 2012.

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