In a dour and negative Australian election campaign, the National Broadband Network was the one issue separated the look alike policies of the two major parties. In the end, it decided the election.
Privately developed communications networks are rare in the nation’s history for a combination of factors including Australia’s population distribution and commercial appetites for investment risk.
Australian governments have always been critical to the development of regional communications, from the establishment of state operated railway networks, through the post office owned telegraph and telephone networks and eventually the road system.
So the National Broadband Network is typical of Australian communications development where the government provides the infrastructure framework and the private sector grows around it.
There’s no doubt regional communities understood the importance of being connected to the global economy, successive Federal governments have struggled with a patchwork of government programs such as the Universal Service Obligation and Broadband Connect in an effort to guarantee some level of service for all Australian communities.
The NBN itself was conceived in the realisation that any solution that relied wholly on private funding was not going to deliver a national solution. This was view that regional organisations such as Digital Tasmania had held all along when agitating for their communities not being left behind.
And Tasmania was were the vote mattered, the coalition failed to win any Tasmanian seats where three would have been won had the state followed the rest of the nation. Those three seats; Bass, Franklin and Braddon would have been enough to give the Liberal and National Parties power.
Had the coalition focussed on the legitimate criticisms of the NBN such as the government’s failure to quantify the $43 billion price tag or NBNCo’s failure to produce a business plan then they may well have won the election.
As the country Independents stated, the NBN was one of the key considerations in their decision to support the Labor government, so not getting their NBN policy right cost the coalition government in two ways.
Now the NBN is going ahead we need to focus on what it can deliver, along with a sensible discussion on the right mix of fibre and wireless infrastructure, the proportion of private and public investment and exactly how much the project is going to cost.
Now is the time to get on with building what will be the 21st Century equivalent of the roads and railways of the 20th and 19th Centuries.