Internet service provider (ISP) iiNet (ASX:IIN) has praised the National Broadband Network (NBN) but has cautioned that the value of the fibre network will be lessened unless the Federal Government issues a national online strategy to give purpose and direction to the project.
“We are of the opinion that the missing component in the debate is a national online or digital economy strategy,” iiNet chief financial officer, David Buckingham, told a Parliamentary inquiry into the role and potential of the NBN.
“We would like to see this debate switching fast to fundamental questions, like: Where does Australia wish to be in a global digital economy? Or does Australia want to create jobs, improve domestic productivity, increase exports and advance its competitive position in a global digital economy?”
Buckingham said the ISP was a strong supporter of the NBN but was also of the opinion that a national online strategy should be a matter of priority and should be developed in order to give the NBN, government agencies and the economy at large purpose and direction.
“As attractive as it might be for us a company and our customers, NBN network is not the objective. Its potential use is the real objective,” he said. “We ask: what is it that we want to achieve? What are our national objectives? What will be the measure of our success?”
The lack of leadership on the government leadership on the NBN has also fuelled debate among industry, communities and the network wholesaler as to who has primary responsibility for communicating the NBN to end users.
Several groups have increasingly moved to educate consumers on the $36 billion project, with advocacy group ACCAN and industry body Communications Alliance both making moves to disseminate information through retail service providers and directly to consumers.
While the Federal Government has so far supported these moves, it has indicated it will attempt to more aggressively educate the public about the network of its volition, with expectations it will allocate specific funding to that effect for use by government and NBN Co in the upcoming budget.
Commenting generally on the benefits if the NBN, Buckingham said the national fibre network would be an important enabler of improvements in the communications over the next five to 15 years and become, like electricity, intrinsic to Australians’ way of life.
“Can I tell you what Australians will use the NBN for in 10 years' time right now? No; but history shows that when you provide essential infrastructure, innovation transpires – and fast,” he said.
“Five years ago Twitter and YouTube didn't exist. It's barely 10 years since Google and peer-to-peer became part of the Internet and they have simply revolutionised the way that consumers access information.”
From an ISP perspective, Buckingham said NBN Co had delivered on its promise of openness and input during the design phase of the network.
“Our engineers have worked closely with NBN Co over the past two years and we're very happy with the technical specifications that have been delivered to date,” he said.
Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has continued the Coalition’s criticism of the NBN, calling on the government to use next week's budget to demonstrate how the National Broadband Network (NBN) would be delivered and at what cost.
The Australian Greens and telco industry sources have also highlighted problems between the NBN and Telstra with the claim that Telstra had threatened to walk away from an $11 billion deal with NBN Co unless the Federal Government allowed the telco giant to charge smaller players high prices to access its network.
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