Can the Aussie Ute cope with a Rolls Royce NBN?

I have been conducting research to explain the differences in broadband speeds and take-up between Canada and Australia since 2005. An obvious theme, aside from the Canadian anticipative versus the Australian passive approach to technological convergence, has been decentralisation (Canada) verus centralisation (Australia).

Until the announcement of the NBN (Rolls Royce version), an obvious solution to Australia's broadband woes was the structural separation of Telstra (pre-privatisation). However, now Telstra is what it is, I am reluctant to support any government move to destroy a world-class company. I am also sceptical about anything the Opposition has to say. After all, they dropped the broadband ball on their watch.

The NBN announcement this week has put things in a flat spin and many questions remain unanswered. Why spend $43 billion on broadband and not healthcare or education? If Australians have access to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), will they use it? Where should it start, in the bush or in the city? How much will it cost?

A national FTTN network would put Australia as #1 for broadband networks in the world. Industry analysts agree the FTTH would be the best option to future proof the NBN. Although 55% of statistics are made-up, I would think that 90% of Australians are keen to see the government roll out the largest nation building project since the Snowy Hydro scheme.

Politics will determine the government's ability to roll out such an ambitious project. I think this would be the most substantial long-term policy goal ever undertaken by an Australian government. But like many others, I am concerned that the NBN might eventually become Telstra 2.0.

It seems apparent that the debate must now focus on the 'public interest'. Clearly, a FTTH NBN would usher in the end of debates over convergence. But are Australian industries ready for the change? How will the government deal with these issues? Why not give the Taswegians a chance to pilot the NBN? Indeed, why not the 'bush' too? Most of us are sick of waiting for the 'trickle-down' effect promised in the 1980s.

My main concern is the government's ability to roll out such an ambitious project without it being stalled by traditional politics. After all, the NBN (Rolls Royce version) will bring to the fore a whole bunch of interests which to date have been segregated by divergent views and industry structures. How will this affect media ownership laws? Is it important enough to simply roll it out and see what happens?

I think it is. But then I regard the Net as the ultimate freedom machine and therefore I am biased. Yet Australia's international competitiveness rests on its ability to engage in the digital economy. If not now, then in the very near future. But do we have the institutional capacity? Can the government do what it suggests it can? I hope so. But the NBN (Rolls Royce version) will travel a rocky road. Let's hope the good old Aussie ute is up to the task.