Thursday, March 20, 2008

Australia - the expense of broadband

Broadband is too expensive, says minister

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy has acknowledged Australians pay too much for broadband, but says measures to introduce free, unlimited downloading are unlikely to be part of the Federal Budget in May.

Mr Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, said a Senate inquiry to be held later this year would examine the nation's high metered downloading prices and the previous government's reluctance to introduce free, unlimited downloading.

Business and private broadband users have urged the government to introduce changes to reduce constraints, including the high cost of downloading.

Mr Conroy said today the Senate inquiry would discuss competing claims about broadband capacity, following comments by Google which recently said Australia was constrained.

"There are people who say we have got plenty of capacity, people make these arguments," Mr Conroy said today.

"I have my views, but I am going to be guided by the information that comes through (the Senate inquiry). Yes, on the surface there appears to be bottlenecks. Prices are higher than they should be.

"If you look at the prices we pay for the internet in Australia, they're clearly higher than overseas, so we're about creating competition, we're about getting to the bottom of what's causing this international bottleneck."

A commitment to spend $4.7 billion of public money to fund a new high-speed broadband network, including the rollout of the ADSL2+ network and a pledge to build a national high-speed fibre to the node network, was central to Labor's election strategy last year.

But Mr Conroy today stopped short of outlining a Budget commitment to implement free national unlimited downloading.

"Our whole broadband plan is about driving competition," he said.

"The national broadband network is going to be an open access network that will ensure that everybody has a chance to get online.

"Australia is one of the very few countries in the world to have these download limits."

Mr Conroy said Australia was constrained by international capacity.

"We'll be holding a Senate inquiry over the course of this year to try and look at these capacity constraints," he said.

"What (Prime Minister) Kevin (Rudd) has said is that our election commitment was to deliver our election promises in this coming Budget, so that is our priority."

Federal Parliament will break tomorrow for seven weeks before the May Budget.

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