Gold Coast City Council's decision to invest $3.6m in fibre network makes sense...


Spokespeople from GOLDOC, the Games organising committee, and NBN have "golf clapped" the decision but NBN Co could not commit to delivering its fibre in time for the Games.

I spoke with ABC Radio Gold Coast's "Drive" presenter Matt Webber this afternoon about the Council's decision.

The budget for the Commonwealth Games tops $2bn, with the Queensland Government paying the lion's share at $1.5bn. The Gold Coast City Council is contributing $155m, with the Commonwealth funding the rest.

The Gold Coast Bulletin claims that:
ratepayers will fork out almost $4 million to bring high-speed internet to a section of the city – a job the National Broadband Network should have done – but most will not benefit from it.
While the investment will be funded by ratepayers, and it seems absurd that NBN Co was not in on the deal to ensure the economic benefits of the Games could be adequately captured, the Council's move is not out of step with other countries. 

For example, it is quite common for municipal governments in Canada to come to the party when the benefits of high-speed internet are obvious. But Australia's constitution hampers the ability of local councils to get involved in telecommunications infrastructure.

I have long argued that the NBN model was destined to become a political football, and central control would lead to sporadic failure of the approach. The inability of NBN to support the Commonwealth Games provides yet more evidence of the problem with central control.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate is to be applauded for his political courage. The risk that internet services will embarrass the City during the Games should be worth the relatively small investment. 

But local council broadband plans do not generally go well for councils, as indicated by the Macquarie-Hastings Council's attempt to deploy its own network back in 2006. 

But ratepayer's may not be happy, even though the potential economic benefits flowing from services such as free WiFi along the light rail route should be obvious, especially in one of our major tourist destinations.

When I think back to Brisbane's transport infrastructure pre- and post-Expo '88, the city transformed itself and the updated infrastructure provided a much-needed injection into the economic life of the Brisbane that continued for years after Expo was but a memory.

The potential benefits from the Commonwealth Games should do the same for the Gold Coast.

Given NBN's poor record at delivering high-speed broadband, I hope that the Gold Coast's approach is successful and might be taken up by other local councils to shake up Australia's approach to telecommunications infrastructure. At least at the local level, the politics of infrastructure is dealt with within the geographical area where it is needed.

NBN Co is rightly tight-lipped in responding to criticism. It has a job to do, set by the federal government, and that doesn't include deploying the network to service the Gold Coast or the Commonwealth Games.

What the situation does indicate is the failings of the overall National Broadband Network approach. The model is cumbersome, slow, bureaucratic, and fraught with politics.

I daresay that after the fact, $3.6m would be a paltry sum to recover the Gold Coast's reputation if nothing had been done. Whether the Gold Coast Council can bear the impact from ratepayers used to the Commonwealth paying for telecommunications infrastructure might just be a bridge too far. But I hope not.