Business welcomes Coalition broadband proposal but highlights unanswered questions

The small business community has welcomed the Coalition’s broadband proposal, although the general consensus is that businesses don’t mind who builds the network as long as it delivers reliable, fast internet connections.

The reaction comes alongside the release of new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which show businesses are utilising faster broadband connections.

Peter Strong, head of the Council of Small Businesses of Australia, told SmartCompany this morning SMEs don’t care who builds the network – as long as it ends up being built.

“We want reliability,” he says.

“There’s nothing worse than being in country areas and having a download drop out. Small businesses just want reliable, fast internet, at a good price.”

The Coalition announced its policy yesterday – a $20 billion network which will connect fibre optic cables to the node, rather than to the home. The network will utilise Telstra’s copper infrastructure to connect these nodes to individual homes.

This set-up means the network is cheaper, and rolls out slightly faster, but results in a slower speed. The Coalition argues everyone will have access to a connection of at least 25 megabits per second.

Small business has been mostly ambivalent, saying both plans suggest Australia will have, at the very least, extensive broadband infrastructure by 2019.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson told SmartCompany the make-up of the network doesn’t matter so much as it does the overall cost.

“The government has not conducted a cost benefits analysis on the NBN, and we are only left with the debate between the government and the Coalition about costing,” he says.

“It’s pleasing each side recognises the importance of providing effective and usable broadband to the SME community.”

The comments come alongside new figures from the ABS which show the number of individuals and businesses connected to broadband has continued to grow.

The “business and government” sector recorded 11.8 million broadband connections, up from 11.6 million in June 2012.

The majority of connections are between 1.5Mbps and 24Mbps, with only 1.5 million out of a total of 12 million using connections with 24Mpbs or greater.

Anderson says the statistics underline the importance of providing broadband to small business.

“There is a significant utility of small and medium business from the government and Coalition’s positions.”

The Coalition’s plan has received some criticism. It would require buying the Telstra copper network in order to connect nodes to individual homes, although analysts say this network would require expensive upkeep and will be outdated soon.

Ovum research director David Kennedy says any network plan relies on Telstra’s involvement.

“You need to have Telstra in the mix,” he says, proposing the company could be a candidate to actually build the Coalition’s network.

Another unanswered question, he says, is deciding how the Coalition plan would actually be built.

“There are still questions unanswered – such as what the wholesale set-up will be like.”

“But overall I’m not surprised by anything in the Coalition’s plan.”



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