[brisbane times] THE top United Nations official overseeing telecommunications has given the government's national broadband network project a tick of approval.
Australia's unique market conditions, geography and low population make the project viable here, although few other countries are likely to copy the publicly funded monopoly model.
Meeting exclusively with The Age during a two-day fact finding trip to Australia, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) secretary general Hamadoun Toure said a minimum speed broadband network would increase economic capacity and creativity.
''The way I see it here, Australia has undertaken the largest infrastructure project ever,'' he said.
''Three to five years from now, Australia will be number one in broadband in the world. A large size country like this can be a test bed for any scenario that could happen anywhere else in the world and I can take that model to share anywhere else in the world.''
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull questioned whether those benefits were worth huge expenditure.
''Mr [Dr} Toure has been unwavering in his support of the NBN for the past 12 months, but I have seen him produce no convincing evidence to adequately answer, address this question - and neither has Senator Stephen Conroy,'' he said. ''It should also be noted that opinion within the ITU is far from unanimous.''
After meeting representatives of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Communications and Media Authority, and senior staff from Telstra, Optus and NBN Co, Dr Toure said he was convinced the government's project would create a level playing field in the Australian communications market.
However, he does not expect other countries will follow the Australian government's model of borrowing billions of dollars to set up a new monopoly to replace the national copper network with thousands of kilometres of optical fibre.
''No model in any country can be replicated anywhere else,'' he said. ''People [sometimes make the mistake of] comparing one country with another country … you never find two countries with the same conditions. Development level, structure, the policies and the vision of the people are different.''
The International Telecommunications Union is not a natural ally of a government-funded takeover of a functioning fixed broadband market. Now under the UN umbrella, its role over the past 145 years has been to co-ordinate the bureaucratic minutia of technical and regulatory standards that allow telecommunications to work across national borders and ensure products are standardised world wide.
''Australia is a different country, its geography and spread of the people,'' Dr Toure said. ''The level of telecommunications development and the level [of competition] between the operators - I will not say which one is a giant or not - all of those conditions, you do not find them elsewhere and therefore you need to have the guts to tackle the problem.''
The ITU encourages private sector solutions to problems over government intervention and discourages regulation that stifles investment. For example, Dr Toure said regulations should encourage profits from the internet and mobile communications to flow to the companies which build infrastructure, not just the companies that develop search engines and applications. But when the private sector fails, the ITU is ready to co-ordinate a global government solution. For example, global roaming fees remain exorbitant despite years of pressure on the private sector. This will now be a high priority for the ITU assembly meeting in November next year.
''We recommend regulators never to intervene if the operators can fix a problem. Obviously it has not been fixed,'' said Dr Toure, himself a former manager and engineer in the satellite industry in Africa.
Dr Toure also made a surprising prediction that ''the first decade of the millennium was dominated by mobile growth everywhere, worldwide. The second decade of the millennium will be broadband.
''It is not only here that they are laying fibre. The amount of fibre being laid in Africa today is higher than any other infrastructure.''
Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/uns-communication-agency-backs-nbn-20110417-1djoo.html#ixzz1KCI7nWDb
UN's communication agency backs NBN