NBN on the right track

While we wait patiently in Palmerston via Gungahlin for faster and more reliable broadband connections, today's announcement is good news:
The Rudd government has named six broadband-deprived areas as the first recipients of its $250 million cash injection to kickstart the $43 billion national broadband network in rural areas.
Following the announcement of the roll-out in Tasmania, it is good to see that 'Emerald and Longreach in Queensland, Geraldton in Western Australia, Darwin in the Northern Territory, Broken Hill in NSW, Victor Harbor in South Australia and South West Gippsland in Victoria' are being fast-tracked for the NBN.

It is important that the least served areas receive the access first. It is easy to complain about poor broadband services, harder to imagine life without any.

One of the issues for the Commonwealth is that the approach to deploying the NBN infrastructure is quite novel in Australia. As has been seen in Tasmania, the decentralised approach has been let down by a lack of engagement with citizens and stakeholders.

It is unfortunate that the highly centralised approach to communications policy in Australia is such a political issue. Broadband is crucial infrastructure and its lack will affect Australia's international competitiveness whether we like it or not. I am convinced that only non-users or those who already have fast and reliable Net connections would disagree on the importance of broadband for our national prosperity.

But one aspect which is still overlooked is the correlation between citizen involvement in the process and the corresponding take-up of services. While many may be disinterested (or even uninterested) in the process, there are plenty of individuals and groups who are keen to be informed of or involved in the roll out. Such community champions are being underutilised by government.

To be sure, things are changing quickly and recent moves such as the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and Public Sphere are helping to change 'way things are done here'.

It will be interesting to see how NBN Co will function - moving the deployment one step away from politics could be a good thing - but the company must engage with stakeholders. This is a real challenge for those who will lead the charge. The $43 billion price tag will always keep the NBN in the top level of political issues. But leadership may just be the key.