Quiggin on TV and broadband

In today’s AFR, John Quiggin laments government planning over technology and the unrealistic nature of its digital television push. He contrasts this to broadband which shows the problems of a lack of planning.

Faced with the pitfalls of TV buying, many of us will be tempted to give up the whole scene and switch to the internet. Sadly, the news here is no better. Whereas in TV the government has sought to impose a Rolls-Royce solution, in broadband it has contentedly watched us slip back towards developing-country status, while maintaining a hands-off position.

According to a recent CEDA report, written by Melbourne Business School economist Joshua Gans, average download speeds for Australian DSL broadband are at the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, just ahead of Mexico, but behind Hungary and about half the pace available in Slovakia and Poland. The gap to the real leaders, such as South Korea, is so great that Gans suggests we should consciously attempt to exploit the advantages of backwardness, which include the possibility of skipping intermediate technologies.

The government’s recently released response to the problem is its “Broadband Blueprint”, but those hoping that references to blueprints might suggest some actual planning are in for a disappointment. The central proposal is that the Australian government should enable discussions and “continue to provide leadership’. Continued leadership of the kind we’ve had for the past decade and more is something we could well do without.

The problem is that we have no plan for broadband at all and so I worry whether we will ever deal with the gap properly.