The Australian government announced last year that it would spend up to $38.9 billion to create a National Broadband Network. Its goal: revolutionizing the vast Australian continent and closing the digital divide for its farflung citizens.
“It’s time for us to bite the bullet on this,” Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, calling the plan “a historic nation-building investment focused on Australia’s long-term national interest.”
A year later, the promise remains, and the government’s plans now include an open network similar to Google's proposed fiber network, but on a national scale.
Rudd's government aims to give 90% of Aussies access to a high-speed fiber-based Internet network with 100 megabits/second by 2018. Telstra, the nationwide telco whose Big Pond broadband brand is the country's biggest, will face competition and have to considerably up the ante to remain on top.
The US tech blog GigaOm notes that the plan's critics include Australian ISPs who criticize the government’s involvement in developing and operating a broadband network that will compete with, well, theirs.
A study by McKinsey and KPMG about Australia's broadband plan offers 84 recommendations about technology, financing, ownership, policy framework and market structure.
There are significant differences between Australia and the US pertaining to building out a broadband infrastructure – primarily that the majority of Australians live on the perimeter. According to the study, "250,000 kilometers of fiber and 5,000 visits per day to customers' homes over a period of eight years” will be required to reach those shore-hugging citizens down under.
At the end of the day, the “ultimate cost to the consumers will be the equivalent of $27 to $32 a month for 20 Mbps voice and broadband access.”
The ship has passed for such an economical broadband plan in America. The network here has been built by private companies, and ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon FiOS oppose an open network model.
Ironically it is competition between the entrenched ISP’s that will shape American's national broadband rollout. Case in point, Verizon’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) package, and the above-mentioned Google experiment.
According to Information Week, it would cost about $350 billion to deploy broadband across America. As this is unlikely in the foreseeable future, we’ll have to be content with watching our cousins down under to see what new models evolve as ISPs jostle and governments vie to bring broadband to all.