The federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd has reiterated his $4.7 billion pledge to build a high-speed broadband network throughout Australia to boost the economy, particularly in the regional small business sector.
Speaking on Sydney's 2Day FM radio station this morning, Rudd said small businesses in rural and regional areas are forced to "live in the dark ages" because Internet connections are too slow.
Rudd spoke to business people on the Sunshine Coast in regional Queensland to gather a first-hand account of the problem.
He said Australia will be left behind if it doesn't invest in communications infrastructure on such a scale, and likened the policy to the build-out of the railways over the past century which facilitated the economy with another option for transport.
Many people in the IT sector and media commentators have supported Labor's broadband plan, but clouds remain over whether a $4.7 billion raid of the Future Fund will be enough to cover all regional areas.
Rudd expressed uncertainty about the average speed of broadband small businesses can already receive, claiming the previous ADSL1 maximum 1.5Mbps as unsatisfactory.
Communications analyst Paul Budde disagrees with Rudd saying the average speed is still around 512Kbps for small business in rural areas.
"If you move to what they have now to 1.5Mbps they would be happy," Budde said. "We don't need fibre now but we do in five years. It's a gradual process we need to do."
Budde used a freeway analogy to describe why Rudd's policy is sound.
"You don't need a ten lane highway for three cars, but you need those networks for when it gets busier," he said. "So when you have high-speed broadband people with use it for video links and large file transfers. As soon as you start using those you need 10Mbps. Nobody is using that now but that is the sort of thing we need to plan for."
Furthermore, Budde said if there is a need people can get 100Mbps with fibre to the premises.
Communicaitons Minister Senator Helen Coonan has previously stated most people in urban areas are "happy" with the speed of broadband they can receive.
On cost, Budde said the total is more likely to be $15 billion as $5 billion is "not commercially viable".
"I'm confident that amount of money we will solve the problem," he said.
"Broadband is not a major problem as most people are using the Internet for e-mail and Web surfing [but] when businesses realize the potential the whole equation changes and they will start to rely on it so it needs to be good technology."
Budde also agrees with Rudd's railway analogy, saying businesses emerged because there were railways connecting the towns, but it's a case of "the old chicken and egg scenario".
"We have made great progress over the past eight years from being a broadband backwater," he said. "Not every one has the same service as we are a big country. That means people that are further away from telephone exchanges will suffer because DSL is distance related."