Dutch broadens Australia with broadband experiences

Being geographically compact, having a government that fosters a competitive Telco environment and home to a major transcontinental Internet exchange is what makes the Netherlands the number one broadband nation in Europe, members of an official Dutch delegation told Australian counterparts last week.

The Dutch have broadband Internet penetration somewhere between 55%-60%, making it the number one European country with broadband. On the world stage, the Netherlands only lags behind South Korea. Australia in comparison has roughly 20% or 3 million of its population with broadband.

Members of the Dutch government, including its Prime Minister Dr Jan Peter Balkenende, and Telco industry along with Australia's Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Helen Coonan gathered for the Netherlands-Australian Broadband Roundtable.

The event was part of the celebrations around the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Dutch East-India Company ship, Duyfken, near the Australian town of Weipa.

Clemence Ross van Dorp, the Acting Minister for Foreign Trade, said the national strategy for broadband -- the Dutch don't count under 1MBs as broadband, she said - does not stop at fast speeds. "You must be able to do things with it. And we would like to explore that market."

"Broadband is important for economic growth and service oriented economy," said Guus Broesterhuizen, the Netherlands' deputy director, General Energy and Telecom.

The Dutch have got to this high level of broadband due to the country abiding by an EU regulation that forced markets to be open. As a result of increased companies, 95% of the population now have access to high-speed cable.

"Australia has challenges that are difficult to overcome," Broesterhuizen said. The Netherlands' geography -- when compared with Australia -- has no rural areas, which works in their favour.

Their geography also works in its favour in another aspect. The Transatlantic cable which connects mainland Europe and North America pops up in Amsterdam. This enables many of the ICT companies and providers to tap into this fast connection and deliver services to residents.

Amsterdam also featured in the roundtable talks. They are home to a new Fibre, The Home project called Citynet. The city has invested in a public-private partnership to deliver end users with symmetric speeds of 100MBps. Presently 40,000 homes are in the process of being connected with 400,000 when the project is completed.

The goal is to bring next generation services to peoples living rooms, said Hans Tijl, a speaker for the Development Corporation of the City of Amsterdam.

Tijl said the network was designed to be open, "everyone has access to it."

Having the symmetric pipes was the key as he suspected all the new services would utilise triple play -- video, images and audio. "It is very important to upload at speed."

Although it won't be completed for another five years, the project will allow for innovative service providers to ply their trade and deliver next generation services such as education or healthcare, he said.

In the meantime, the healthcare industry is already utilising broadband.

Matthijs Almekinders, CEO of Sensire, talked about how his company, a non-profit home healthcare, is utilising broadband to allow elderly patients to contact nurses via their television sets. All the elderly patients need is a broadband connection, TV and set top box. By communicating over the Internet, the patients can get nursing advice without needing a nurse to be present.

Almekinders said the service, called Telesens, stimulates self-care and increases the self-confidence of the patients. The project which is already rolled out to over 200 aged persons is important for the economy.

"Most Western societies face an ageing population and this will lead to an increase in demand for healthcare in the coming decades. We already face a shortage of care givers and the gap is growing between required care, and available care," he said.

Because Telesens makes use of existing technology via the TV set, Almekinders said the patients did not suffer from any technophobia.

IT Minister Helen Coonan detailed the Australian government initiatives to boost broadband, particularly its schemes to boost regional broadband.

She spoke of how the government had set up Broadband Connect, a new scheme to provide registered Internet service providers with incentive payments to supply competitively priced higher bandwidth services in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.

"We need to think big about what we can do to provide something innovative and different in rural Australia," she said.

She also acknowledged the Austar and Soul alliance, announced a fortnight ago, will deliver WiMax to 25 regional Australian locations by the end of 2007.

On the competition front, she said competitive pressures deliver best outcomes.

Dutch born Australian Telco analyst, and organiser of the event, Paul Budde, pushed this further, "We need a stronger regulatory regime as there is no competition here," he said.

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