ACS calls on government to make broadband a national priority

Call to arms leads to creation of special interest group

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) today called on the federal government to implement world class broadband infrastructure as a national priority.

As part of its "call to arms" the ACS also announced the establishment of a National Telecommunications Special Interest Group and an alliance with the Telecommunication Society of Australia to address the critical issue of delivery of remote services.

Speaking at Wireless World in Sydney, ACS communications technologies board director, Professor Reg Coutts, said infrastructure was needed to support telecommuting, video conferencing and data exchange.

This is in addition to medical applications and e-health initiatives that will provide online medical services in remote communities.

Professor Coutts said that consistent, reliable, high speed national broadband infrastructure that employs the latest technologies will be the key enabler to delivering growth in the Australian economy over the next decade.

"In the era of the new information economy, communications is the enabler and must be seen in the same light as other essential infrastructure, such as roads, power and water services, in terms of its necessity for future industry development," he said.

"High speed, reliable broadband services will help address the constraints imposed by distance, provide access to e-health, e-government and education services, employment and quality of life options for rural communities."

ACS CEO, Dennis Furini, said the establishment of an ACS National Telecommunications Special Interest Group demonstrates the organization's intention to ensure that all Australians, particularly those living in rural or remote areas, have access to high speed Internet.

Furini said without the co-operation of federal, state and territory governments to drive installation of a national high speed broadband infrastructure network, the delivery of fully networked homes, offices and communities will not be possible.

Professor Coutts warned that there is no silver bullet solution to achieving this goal but Australia needs to invest in a diversity of wireless options such as NextG and WiMAX to effectively extend fast and reliable broadband services beyond the major cities and large regional centres.

"Significantly, rural broadband services must be affordable and this is going to require financial subsidies from the federal government, such as the type we currently accept under the Universal Service Obligation to provide the telephone service, to ensure that services are delivered to areas that may not be economically viable in the short to medium term and to minimize the inevitable city/rural digital divide," he said.

"While wireless technologies remain the current best option for delivery of remote services, wireless broadband options will never match optical fibre infrastructure for the ever increasing bandwidth and speed that is going to be demanded within foreseeable 10 to 15 year horizon."

The federal government has come under fire in the past week for replacing the $878 million Broadband Connect program with a $162.5 million Australian Broadband Guarantee.

Under the Broadband Connect scheme, subsidies of up to $3300 were available to all ISPs for each regional customer that connected to their wireless networks, with the average grant in the $2000 range.

The new Broadband Guarantee reduced the subsidy to $1100 for metro and regional ISPs and only awards the grant to one provider per region, including satellite service providers.

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