NBN Needs Tough Rules to Reduce Digital Divide
8 September 2011 at 11:11 am
The National Broadband Network risks contributing further to the digital divide if tough rules regarding fair treatment and financial hardship are not ensured according the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin says 14% of the population aged 14 years and older currently do not have access to the Internet in their home or on their mobile phones, of which 42% reported that having Internet at home was simply too expensive.
Corbin says there has not been a credible discussion on affordability, because there has been no recognition of the difference between cheaper and affordable.
Corbin was speaking at the ACCAN national conference held in Sydney over September 7-8 titled Our Broadband Future.
Currently, Telstra has a legislative responsibility to provide a landline telephone to any Australian who wants one in their home. However, Corbin says it is unclear whether there will be any similar legislation regarding fair treatment and financial hardship around the NBN, or whether the market will be left to decide.
Opening the conference, the Minister for Communications, Steven Conroy said the broadband network will enhance the lives of all Australians who will be able to participate in the digital economy and reap its rewards.
However, Teresa Corbin says that even if there are almost perfect levels of competition that any economist would be happy with, the market will not deliver a level of affordability that will allow every Australian to have access to a broadband service, which is a problem, because internet access is no longer a luxury that is handy to have if you’ve got the money, it is essential.
Communications spokesman for the Australian Greens, Senator Scott Ludlum says he is unashamedly a supporter of the NBN, but warned that it needed to be kept publicly owned.
It’s future proof, built for technologies that haven’t even been invented yet, says Ludlum, and it’s important that a network is put together that will take Australia into the 21st century rather than leave a legacy.
However, the Shadow Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull says that the NBN is a bad deal for tax payers and a bad deal for consumers.
He says Internet prices have come down because of competition, then $50 billion or more of tax payer dollars is spent to build a new government monopoly and eliminate competition and that will see prices going up, so the Internet will become less affordable, rather than more affordable.
Corbin says that ACCAN does not have a position on the different party’s communications policies, but that their role is just to represent the consumers.
The NBN has already begun rolling out across Tasmania and is in the process of being introduced in the mainland. The Federal Government will be undertaking a public information and education campaign to inform Australians about how the network will be built and what steps will need to be taken to migrate across.
Pro Bono Australia is a media partner of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network National Conference on Our Broadband Future, 7-8 September 2011.
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