28 June 2007

Both major political parties have got it wrong on broadband, according to a recent PhD graduate from the University of Queensland.

The social science graduate Dr Lucy Cameron said the future broadband strategies of both Labor and the Coalition would wipe out many smaller Australian telcos.

“Instead of building on the previous investment and promoting a competitive telecommunications environment Labor wants to introduce a monopoly on wholesale broadband, while the Coalition is now supporting a virtual duopoly between Telstra and Optus reminiscent of the early 1990s,” Dr Cameron said.

“Optus and Telstra have business models that also supply media and business services which pose the risk of further media concentration in Australia.”

Dr Cameron said smaller wireless, ADSL and community owned telcos which had already invested millions in their own infrastructure and received more than $1 billion of Federal Government subsidiaries in the last five years, would suffer.

She said the Federal Government should set minimum bandwidths for any Australian telco to tender for instead of engaging one or two companies to install a single, faster network.

“It doesn’t really matter who supplies the connections so long as the all the networks are able to talk to each other via internet protocol.

“If the government wants everyone in Australia to have 12Mbps (over 20 times the speed of 256kpbs broadband connections), then it should examine ways for any company with the capacity to be able to improve their services to meet that.”

In her thesis Enabled to Engage in the Information Age, Dr Cameron proposes that telcos fund areas of market failure through an industry levy paid to local councils.

Local councils would then have the financial capacity to either build or tender for contracts.

Telco services would have to meet minimum bandwidth levels and provide public access points and training for users of newer technologies.

Dr Cameron said consumers shouldn’t be limited to one provider as there could be mix of fibre cable, ADSL2+, wireless networks and even powerline technology.

“We’ve already started down the track of opening up competition in the Australian environment, and both parties now seem to be taking a retrograde step in closing it down.

“A number of Federal Government schemes such as the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme could also be improved to upgrade minimum bandwidths, without shutting down half the industry.
“Many of the smaller providers have been industry innovators and can move quickly to install new equipment.”

Dr Cameron is a 37-year-old from West End, Brisbane.

Her PhD examined why some regions lag behind others in broadband uptake.

MEDIA: Dr Cameron (0421 202 337, 07 3411 5455), af_cameron@optusnet.com.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (07 3365 2619)