The federal opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has used his reply speech to the 2011-2012 federal budget to once again attack the National Broadband Network (NBN) and argue for a market-oriented solution to the need for faster broadband.
According to Abbott, speeds of up to 100 megabits were already “potentially available” to “almost every” major business and hospital, to most schools, and through high speed cable already running past nearly a third of Australian households.
“The smart way to improve broadband is not to junk the existing network but to make the most of it,” he said. “It’s to let a competitive market deliver the speeds that people need at an affordable price with government improving infrastructure in the areas where market competition won’t deliver it.”
Abbott also reiterated Coalition calls for a cost benefit analysis of the national infrastructure project and that costs could escalate to $50 billion. He said current NBN funding would be better spent on transport and health infrastructure.
“That $50 billion could fully fund the construction of the Brisbane rail loop, for instance, the duplication of the Pacific Highway, the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail link, the extension of the M4 to Strathfield, and 20 major new teaching hospitals as well as the $6 billion that the Coalition has proposed to spend on better broadband,” he said.
In contrast, the Government’s budget includes a mix of cuts and additional funding for broadband and other ICT initiatives. Among the cuts is the the axing of plans to build a broadband network for vocational education and training institutions, netting $80 million in savings over three years.
Funding for the Digital Education Revolution has also been cut by $132.5 million over four years, leaving only $20 million available per year — or less than half — to support the project until the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The move has prompted the Australian Computer Society (ACS) to call for clarity on how funds will be redirected from key government educational IT projects axed or reduced in the 2011-2012 federal budget.
A $9.8 million program to subsidise filtering methods implemented by internet service providers under the Government’s proposed mandatory internet filtering scheme has also been cut.
In contrast, some $576.2 million will be provided to use ICT to improve access and portfolio business within the Department of Human Services (DHS) agencies Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.
Spearheading the service delivery reform agenda will be funding to the tune of $373.6 million over four years to integrate the ICT infrastructure of Medicare Australia, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency.
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