The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has called for bipartisan support of an wholesale-only fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband network, no matter who wins government on 21 August.
The support must also be accompanied by regulatory reform that would see open access to all seekers with competitive protection and as much regional parity as possible, according to the lobby group.
The recommendation is one of 23 outlined in the industry lobby group's Principles for a Digital Economy manifesto, a 51-page document released publicly this week in anticipation of the election. According to the IIA, the recommendations were formulated by the group's board and in cooperation with its National Policy Advisory Council (NPAC), which met in April this year.
(See the full list of recommendations from the IIA)
The 23 recommendations cover a wide array of topics relating to the ICT industry, including regulation of the digital economy, ICT innovation, broadband and telecommunications policy, online engagement, copyright issues, cybersafety and cyber crime, and the Attorney-General's proposed data retention regime.
At the top of the list lies a recommendation for the Federal Government to benchmark its regulation of the digital economy against other Western democracies, in order to ensure Australia becomes “net friendly” for innovation and investment.
The majority of the recommendations, however, revolve around the IIA's focus on Australia as a digital economy, an asset that would fall under any minister who assumes the portfolio as part of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE).
According to the IIA, the digital economy would realise "the benefits of digitisation, and in particular the internet, [and] become part of most if not all areas of economic activity."
"The first steps to becoming a digital economy are underway," the manifesto reads. "Recent Australian Governments have recognised this is a phenomenon which is not only inevitable, but must be supported."
(See what other ICT industry groups want in the Federal election)
At the core of this would be a fast broadband network that would facilitate an international digital economy, particularly in key export industries such as extractive, agriculture and education.
"The operations of many of these export earning industries are located outside major population centres in Australia, necessitating access to broadband internet across Australia, including our rural and remote areas. This has major implications for our national demography and infrastructure needs."
The Australian Labor Party has committed to continuing the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which is currently available to select residents in Tasmania and is set to begin construction on the mainland. Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has also committed to extending the reach of FTTP technology to 93 per cent of homes over 90 per cent, equating to 1.6 million more homes than previously promised, and in line with the recommendations outlined in the NBN Implementation Study.
In contrast, the Coalition has vowed to scrap what it calls a "reckless" project, with some sources claiming it would instead revive aspects of the terminated OPEL project in addition to a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network, in an attempt to reduce costs of the project's implementation.
Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, recently warned that the Coalition wouldn't be able to count on Telstra shareholders for votes, even though it is suspected the party's broadband plan is aimed at appeasing them.