The country can't face the technological future through copper wire

16 August 2010

Those who think our country can do without the national broadband network clearly do not fully understand the potential such a network offers to Australians. While other countries scramble to find ways to meet this exploding demand for global bandwidth, the opposition is wringing its hands and debating the need.

The network will do three things for Australia: it will pay for itself, it will stimulate the innovation economy and it will have multiple applications. How do we know this? Because we are the scientists at the University of Sydney's School of Physics who are working right now to create the photonic and optical systems that will be installed in your home for the next 50 years. And we can assure Australians that all new systems in the future will depend on an optical fibre network to function.

We need to understand that the network will not just be an improved version of the present telecommunications network. It will be a fundamentally different and better system of doing business and connecting with each other and the world.

Other countries understand this and are scrambling to find the best way of implementing such networks of their own. Of the developed nations, only Australia remains stuck in the hand-wringing stage of debating whether such a system is even necessary.

Demand for global bandwidth, which refers to the total amount of information or data being sent over networks at any time, is growing at more than 60 percent a year. The currency of our modern society is information, and the countries that lead the world in information communication in the 21st century will lead the world both economically and politically.

Yet Australia languishes in 12th place on the technological scale, while South Korea has leapfrogged to number one in less than 10 years by investing billions in its broadband infrastructure. In fact, South Korea plans on widespread deployment of a gigabit per second to each home by 2012.

With a trillion-dollar-a-year economy, Australia can afford the cost of a future-proof innovation. The cost of the network is $43 billion. Over eight years this equates to less than $6billion a year with which to build an information infrastructure that will underpin our economic future.

By rolling out a broadband infrastructure that boosts the economy by one percent or more, this means the investment will, almost immediately, more than pay for itself.

This is a leading investment that has incredible potential. It's not just about email or YouTube. Not only will remote communities have better access to educational and teaching via the internet, they will also have access to better medical care.

With this level of bandwidth we will be able to provide real-time, microscopically accurate medical services to the most remote Australians. A national optical fibre capacity means a surgeon in Sydney could operate on a patient in a northern Queensland hospital. A $43 billion investment has the potential to save a lot of lives.

People everywhere will be able to do business anywhere in the world - face to face - without leaving home. And we'll still have plenty of bandwidth left over for the email and YouTube. It seems ludicrous that we are even debating if such a thing is a good idea.

Australia does not need an inadequate Band-Aid solution. A technology being proposed as an alternative to the network is the Hybrid Fibre Coax, an old technology which has been used in North America for more than 15 years.

Going backwards is not the answer. We need a network with the ability to withstand future evolution of technology and to be able to underpin future bandwidth growth. HFC is not a future-proof technology.

A future-proof technology is optical fibre, which has the ability to provide hundreds of gigabits to the home - thousands of times faster than HFC - and will serve us well for the next 100 years. Let's face it - can copper outrun the speed of light?

It is clear that introducing a national broadband network must be done in collaboration with the main industry stakeholders, and in this regard the in-principle agreement the federal government reached with Telstra a few weeks ago was a big step.

It is imperative to implement a bipartisan vision to invest in a communications infrastructure capable of underpinning Australia's innovation-based economy for the 21st century, in order to remain competitive in an information-based global society.

Of all the countries in the world, ours is one of the most isolated, with a vast geographical size and populations that live thousands of kilometres from towns and cities. Australians need to be connecting with each other and in doing so leading the world in telecommunications.

Contact: Alison Muir

Phone: 02 9036 5194

Email: 2a095e40152f050c335a5d18222b0819150e690b314616041f