Coalition, local government lock horns over broadband

Australia loses $3.2B a year over poor access: report.

The Coalition has attacked a scathing report by local governments on the state of broadband in Australia which labelled telecommunications under the Howard government as “extremely sluggish and frustrating”.

The report by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) blamed the former Howard Government for not improving the nation’s “dire state of broadband”. The group claims Australia continues to lose a potential $3.2 billion and 33, 000 jobs due to poor broadband infrastructure.

Shadow communications minister Nick Minchin said the report was bias toward the government.

“I cannot believe the ALGA is happy to spruik the broadband policies of the Rudd Labor Government, yet remains silent about the spurious cancelling of the OPEL project which would have seen Commonwealth funding appropriately targeted at under served regions of Australia,” Minchin said.

“[ALGA] overlooks the fact that Rudd Labor promised broadband miracles before the end of this year, yet to date has delivered nothing.”

ALGA president Cr Geoff Lake and the State of the Regions report co-creator Peter Hylands stood by the claims that poor broadband has cost Australia a potential $3.2 billion per year for the past two years.

Lake would not be drawn on whether Australia's broadband problems were exacerbated by the closure of the Opel network, but said the benefits of the government's National Broadband Network (NBN) will be lost without coverage.

“That does not seem an unreasonable claim and is backed-up by rigorous economic modelling to substantiate it.

“Australia is still in the dark ages compared to other industrialised countries when it comes to access to fast broadband technology.”

Lake said Australia is 10 years behind broadband standards in industrialised nations due to “gross underinvestment” in an NBN concept by the Howard government. He expects Australia to continue to lose $3.2 billion next year while the NBN regulations are ironed-out.

Hylands said new services such as e-health and online education will be stunted if the bush has inadequate access.

“It is very hard to introduce e-health and new media across the nation without complete broadband penetration,” Lake said.

A spokesman for Minchin's office said broadband penetration in regional Australia would have improved under the Howard government's Opel wireless network.

“We would have seen the benefits of broadband coverage from next year had the Opel network not been canceled,” he said.

He said the figures can be spun different ways because of the lack of comprehensive economic modelling around broadband.

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Darren Pauli

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