The Impact of Australia’s Government Policy on Broadband Internet Access: An Australian Experience

The Impact of Australia’s Government Policy on Broadband Internet Access: An Australian Experience

Qiuyan Fan (University of Western Sydney, South Penrith, NSW, Australia)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/jitr.2013100102
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Abstract

The Australian government has recognised the importance of broadband for their social and economic development. This paper provides an in-depth analysis of the impact of policy issues on broadband Internet access in Australia. This research has clearly indicated that the state of broadband Internet access is closely related to the Government’s policy and regulatory framework. The Government based its actions on market forces as a principal driver for broadband Internet connectivity. The research has indicated that the previous regulatory competition regime, by and large, has failed to address concerns of market dominance and market power in the Telecommunications sector as is evidenced by a relatively lower speed and value of broadband services in Australia. To rectify the situation, the Australian government has recently adopted a unique National Broadband Network (NBN) plan, which is linked to the national digital economy strategy. Australia is the first country in the world where a national broadband network infrastructure company, NBN Co, is regarded as a regulated national infrastructure provider rather than as a telecommunication company. The NBN Co builds and operates an open access, wholesale only and non-discrimination high-speed broadband network, the National Broadband Network (NBN). The Australian Government's goal for the NBN is to reform the telecommunications sector and ensure every home and business across the country has access to the NBN by 2020. This paper examines the policies underlying the NBN and discusses current practices and potential benefits of the NBN.
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Introduction

Australia is a wealthy country with a highly educated population and high dial-up Internet penetration. It might be expected that Australia would be among the leaders in broadband Internet access. However, in the past decades, it has been overwhelmingly reported that Australia is lagging behind in terms of fixed broadband access penetration.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data indicates that Australia has slipped from outside of top 20 economies worldwide in 2005 to 30 in 2013 on the list of fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (ITU 2013). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics show that Australia was ranked 18th in the OECD in December 2012, with broadband penetration of 25 per 100 inhabitants, compared to Switzerland at 43.4, Korea at 36.5, United Kingdom at 34.8, and the OECD average at 26.3 (OECD 2012). By December 2012, the OECD ranked Australia 24th out of 34 countries for fibre connections with 1.6% of fibre connections in total broadband (OECD 2012). This compares with the leading economies (e.g. Japan 66.7%, Korea 61.2%, and the OECD average 14.88% of fibre broadband connections) (OECD 2012). Despite the fact that 73% of all households in Australia had broadband connections at home in 2010-11, 21% of Australians aged 15 or over still did not access the Internet from anywhere in that year (ABS 2011). Australia still has more dial-up users than most of OECD countries (Battersby, 2013).

Although the reasons for Australia’s slow broadband growth and uptake are complex,

broadband Internet access is determined by a combination of the widely available telecommunication infrastructure and the accessibility and affordability of Internet services, which are closely related to government policies. As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests,

If countries wish to take advantage of the enabling capabilities of networks such as the Internet, to implement information infrastructure initiatives, they need to urgently address the extent to which the underlying communication policies influence current growth rates (OECD 1996).

Other literature suggests that the underlying reason for Internet access can be traced back to the regulatory regime in each country, because government policies governing the telecommunications service market and promoting information infrastructure have a significant impact on the affordability and availability of broadband access.

Governments around the world have moved from developing policy frameworks that encourage the growth of e-commerce to involvement in broadband deployment. The consensus reached by 175 countries taking part in the World Summit on the Information Society (World Summit on the Information Society 2003) in Geneva, in December 2003 confirms that broadband connectivity is a central enabling agent in building the Information Society, and information and communication infrastructure is an essential foundation for an inclusive information society (World Summit on the Information Society 2003). The 2004 Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) encouraged political support at the highest government levels for the promotion of low-cost broadband connectivity, and stressed that regulatory policy must be developed to promote universal access (Global Symposium for Regulators 2004). More recently, ITU and the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development have conducted research into the role of policy frameworks for broadband and found that the national broadband plans examined share some common emphasises on government leadership in the future broadband development and the role of broadband in enhancing national competitiveness and empowering citizens and businesses (ITU 2013).

In common with other national governments, the Australian government recognizes that timely access to affordable high-speed networks is critical to long-term economic development. Many national approaches to promoting Internet development have been taken since the early-1990s. How have those strategic and regulatory developments impacted on broadband access? To answer this question, this chapter examines

  • National strategies aimed at supporting broadband deployment

  • The Internet market and the regulatory context within which the market operates

  • Some main initiatives and funding programs that have been put in place by government to promote broadband Internet access.

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