Australia must set an ambitious broadband policy for the next 15 years, a coalition representing consumers, small businesses, regional areas and competitive telcos has urged.
The group today launched a "2030 Communications Vision" project and plans to hold a seminar discussing broadband issues in February.
Founding members include the Competitive Carriers' Coalition (CCC), the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) and 4Hume, a group representing a region near Melbourne. CCC members iiNet and Macquarie Telecome also attended the launch.
The February forum will be open to anyone and the aim is to avoid traditional industry fights and be inclusive, said Macquarie Telecom CEO David Tudehope said. The group recognises it is not a task for federal government alone, and must include all stakeholders in the digital economy, he said.
While groups like the CCC are often at odds with Telstra, Tudehope confirmed that the big telco will be welcome to participate.
Australia ranks poorly against other countries on broadband speeds, prices and penetration, said Tudehope.
The group is concerned there has been "an absence of leadership on a broader, integrated view of why telecommunications is important to Australia and the Australian economy," said Steve Dalby, iiNet chief regulatory officer.
"There is no national objective or national strategy to take us forward in the digital economy."
The discussion must consider demand -- how to encourage broadband adoption -- as well as supply-side issues, he added. "It's not about downloading songs faster."
ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said the national strategy must bring broadband to those "on the fringes" of society, including low-income groups, seniors and people in regional areas.
"There are quite a lot of people that, if we don't do something, if we don't have a vision for the future, they will continue to miss out."
Mark Byatt, chairman of 4Hume, also stressed the importance of broadband inclusiveness.
"We need to bring everybody along together -- rural and regional and metropolitan -- and maximise the economic gain, or we spend huge amounts of investment to catch up in somewhat of an ad hoc manner."
Small businesses need fast broadband to be competitive, and getting the National Broadband Network (NBN) sooner is more important to them than the technology chosen by the government, said COSBOA executive director, Peter Strong.
The broadband technology "is a means to an end," he said. "Forget politics. We don't care how you do it ... Just get it out there."