Despite its scepticism of Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN), the National Party has argued in favour of a government-backed fibre optic cable rollout to regional and rural Australia.
Documenting its vision for telecommunications services across the country in its Policy Platform 2010 document released this week, the party claimed the rollout of a broadband network to regional Australia, backed by government, was a major priority.
“The Nationals’ policy is to place a priority on rolling out fibre optic cable to the majority of consumers in regional Australia, before cable roll-out occurs in areas where competition is already driving the provision of higher broadband speeds,” the document reads.
“Where the market cannot sustain a variety of networks in regional areas, the Nationals believe that government has a responsibility to provide an affordable single network. Public/private partnerships can be an appropriate vehicle for delivering telecommunications infrastructure.”
The policy document also puts forward the seemingly contradictory argument that on the one hand, regulation was the reason for under-investment in communications technology in regional and remote Australia, yet government intervention was necessary to deliver services to these same areas.
“The Nationals will resolve the regulatory issues which discourage private enterprise from entering the communications industry and providing parity of service to regional Australia,” the document reads.
“We recognise that, while the market will almost always meet the communications needs of people in the capital cities, government intervention is necessary to ensure those needs are met in the regional and remote parts of Australia.”
Similarly, the document argues that “no single technology or network can provide efficient and cost-effective communications services”, yet acknowledges that fibre optic cable is regarded as the preferred data-carrying technology “for the foreseeable future".
“The Nationals support the continuing extension of the optic fibre network to regional and remote communities currently relying on wireless and microwave technology,” the document reads.
The party said it would look to reintroduce a standing telecommunications fund large enough to ensure that regional Australia’s telecommunications services did not fall behind.
It would also introduce a mobile phone ‘blackspot’ program to identify and redress areas of poor mobile phone reception, and to ensure that mobile networks were kept affordable.
The party defended the Coalition’s $900 million OPEL project, saying it would be delivering high speed broadband to regional Australia by now.