Australia’s third-largest ISP iiNet has blasted the Coalition’s revamped plan for the National Broadband Network, saying that the strategic review, cost/benefit analysis and public debate are all being conducted in a “policy vacuum”.
In his opening statement on Wednesday to the Senate Select Committee on the NBN, iiNet’s chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said successive governments have struggled to communicate concrete reasons for an investment in an NBN.
“The debate has continued to focus on download speeds for domestic entertainment,” said Dalby.
“We believe that no national objectives have been presented as the drivers for the construction of the NBN as they might be for any other infrastructure project. The strategic review continues this failure to address any of these missing components.”
Dalby said the cost/benefit analysis of the NBN has “no specific benefits to analyse, only costs”.
“The Australian public and, it seems, the Australian parliament appears to be unsure why the NBN is being built.
“And so discussions continue to be mired in the operational issue of costs, of timetables and technology rather than the national benefits,” Dalby told the committee.
He said that national objectives on the benefits of the NBN "ought to be the focus of clear national debate and agreement as they are in other neighbouring economies".
He suggested that these national objectives could include a focus on national productivity, job creation, export opportunities, regional development, industry development, improved competition, and improved social outcomes.
“iiNet does not believe that downloading songs faster or being able to connect multiple televisions should be the drivers of national infrastructure projects,” he said.
He also said that “unsophisticated comments” about downloading songs and movies and what number of televisions can be connected was distracting from what should be informed discussion about the economic and social benefits of the NBN.
Dalby criticised the review for failing to mention “upload performance” of the high speed broadband, which is a key consideration for iiNet’s small business customers.
“Any business utilising broadband will confirm that upload performance is mission-critical and yet little attention has been given to this issue which is strategically important to the Australian digital economy.
"Businesses considering online services or applications are hampered by the ability of their target market – the consumers – to access those services if their broadband is limited.
"Without an addressable market, Australian online service development will progress slowly. The importance of broadband performance to both sides of the online supply and demand dynamic is ignored in the strategic review just as it has been in the political debate over recent years."
Dalby said that without a supply side review focused on service creation and delivery, Australian consumers will have little reason to acquire high performance services.