With no end in sight to his honeymoon with Australian voters, Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, announced plans last week for a highspeed broadband network. He pledged to invest up to $4.7 billion over the next five years to build infrastructure that would make surfing speeds up to 40 times faster than today.
To pay for it, Labor plans to dip into the $2 billion Communications Fund, which was set up to improve telecommunication services in rural areas. Rudd also waved the white flag with regard to public ownership of Telstra, espousing the sale of shares in the telco to help pay for the new high-speed broadband network.
Not surprisingly, Rudd's plans drew sharp criticism from the other side of the House. Treasurer, Peter Costello, labeled them economic vandalism. If Labor was allowed to put a hand in the honey pot to fund this project, he said, it would give it carte blanche to do it again.
Whatever your thoughts on Labor's proposed method of funding the new network, the fact that his comments have moved this country's pitiful broadband services up the political agenda has to be welcomed.
The Australian Computer Society was quick to pounce on the announcement. CEO, Dennis Furini, described world class broadband infrastructure as an immediate national priority and warned that economic growth would suffer if the matter was not addressed.
Broadband is a genuine business enabler but the current services available in this country are too slow and overpriced. Let's hope the political debate continues and leads to action.
Over in the US, some major carriers are looking into the introduction of 'fast lanes' that would see users charged a premium for faster traffic. You don't have to be Einstein to work out that selling these services to enterprise users would be a nice earner. But some who are radically opposed to the idea warn that ditching net neutrality (the concept that all traffic is treated equally) will lead to the death of the Internet.
While this is an extreme view, it is not completely without merit. If a tiered system is introduced, you have to wonder what effect it will have on service levels for the great unwashed. You can have the fastest connection in the world but it won't matter a jot if your traffic is classified as a low priority. (This is already a problem under some broadband plans. I ditched my last ISP because it downloaded music at dial-up speeds unless I did it in the middle of the night.) It would also allow carriers to put the brakes on traffic from their competitors and speed-up that of its business partners.
The US Federal Communications Commission is so concerned that it last week announced plans to study the business practices of high-speed ISPs.
It will consider adopting regulations to ensure that all Web traffic is treated equally.
Let's hope common sense prevails or that shiny new high-speed network Labor is planning might only be a boon for major enterprise.