As I use a friend’s $US50 per month Google Fiber connection in Salt Lake City, Utah which delivers speeds of up to 100 megabits per second — enough to download three standard definition movies in 60 seconds — I mourn for Australia’s national broadband network (NBN).
The NBN became a political football over a decade ago, ever since it was unveiled by the then prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2007, but as North America has discovered, the market can’t fix every problem when it comes to broadband.
It can’t, for instance, reach into every nook and cranny without charging through the roof for the “luxury” of having super-fast broadband.
And as Google found out, it is not always profitable. In fact, it ceased rolling out fibre to US cities after it determined it was not something they wanted to pursue everywhere.
It is now 10 years since the NBN first came into being, with the much-repeated story being that then prime minister Rudd and communications minister Stephen Conroy dreamed it up on the back of an envelope mid-flight. Rudd, of course, contends that it was the recommendation of a committee of senior treasury officials. Either way, the eventual dream was super-fast broadband to something like 93 per cent of the population using fibre-to-the-premises technology.
The rest would get fixed-wireless or satellite broadband. The reality? Super-slow, congested, costly internet in a lot of cases.
Why? Because of poor political decisions made by governments of both the red and blue flavours, as well as by ISPs, such as TPG and Dodo, who are crunching the amount of bandwidth they purchase per customer from NBN in order to pump up profit margins.