Monday, 18 June 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister explain where the parity of service is in the government’s wireless broadband proposal for regional Australia, when the 75 per cent of our population who live in the capital cities will enjoy optic fibre to the node internet speeds of 30 megabits per second, while the 25 per cent of Australians who live in rural areas will apparently only be able to access speeds of up to 12 megabits per second over wireless? Where will these country Australians, with their terrestrial network now privatised, be left standing as most developed countries adopt optic fibre to the home networks as the optimum technology for their future telecommunications needs?
The member for Calare asks me about parity of treatment. Let me point out to him that, under the plan announced by the government today, in two years time 99 per cent of the Australian population will have access to broadband of 12 megabits per second at metropolitan comparable prices. That is the essence, that is the nub, of the announcement that has been made today. I would have thought that that explanation alone would indicate that there is parity of treatment, because what is happening under this OPEL proposal is that, for the first time, many regional and country areas of Australia will have the same access to broadband speeds as is now available in metropolitan areas.
The member has asked me about fibre-optic provision. I know that others have spoken of providing a fibre-optic network to just about all parts of Australia. It is our view that there are formidable technological challenges and difficulties in relation to that. International experience has shown—and I invite those who question this to listen carefully—that fibre networks require tens of billions of dollars of investment, even in countries a fraction of the size of Australia. In South Korea, which is a country less than half the size of Victoria, the cost of a fibre network was in excess of $A50 billion and, in December 2005, fibre connections accounted for just 14 per cent of South Korea’s total residential broadband subscriptions. In Singapore, a country with a landmass of 660 square kilometres, half the size of Sydney, the fibre roll-out cost was over $A5 billion.
The point I make out of all that to the member for Calare is that I would take with a large grain of salt what has been proposed by the Labor Party in this area and I would see the proposal put forward by the government as a fair and successful attempt—within the technological and affordability criteria that will govern any administration in this country—to provide parity of service to all Australians.