Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Is broadband a utility? (part 2)

Back in March, I posed the question as to whether broadband should be considered a utility and, as such, whether the UK government should backroll the construction of a nationwide NGN infrastructure. At the time, Ed Richards, the OFCOM CEO, had said that there were no regulatory obstacles in the way of companies investing in 'super-fast broadband' and that, in effect, they should just get on with it.

However, with the current credit crunch still biting, the idea that companies are going to willingly bury billions under the ground is a bit of a leap so instead, the UK ends up falling further behind and very infrastructure that could help the UK economy find its way out of recession remains a pipe-dream.

So, news today that the Australian government is going to just do it themselves and spend A$43 billion on building a national broadband network is a major step. The route taken by them is to create a new company, with the government as the major shareholder, not just connecting the whole country to a 100Mbs network, but also creating 25,000 jobs.

And it's not like there aren't other broadband alternatives in the country ... through Telstra's HSPA+ network, they already hold the Guinness world record for the fastest national mobile broadband network!

So, is there a lesson here that other countries need to look at? At economies have to realign themselves and find new areas of comparative advantage, it is clear that underpinning it all will be a communications infrastructure that really can cope with the challenges of the modern global economy. While I suspect not many governments will want to stump up the cash that the Australian government is lavishing on a nationwide super-fast broadband network, they have certainly thrown down the gauntlet to other governments and economies to invest and build, or wither and stagnate.

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