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Why the NBN still matters — and how it can be improved after the election

There was a time, not long ago, when internet infrastructure policy was a big part of any federal election campaign.

Politicians in hard hats would spar over acronyms like FTTN and FTTP, and talk glowingly about the knowledge economy.

That time appears to have passed, and yet Australia’s broadband is still bad — at least compared to other countries.

For more than a decade, our global rank has been slipping.

On the authoritative Ookla Speedtest Global Index, we’re now 65th, or about 30 spots lower than in 2013.

And yet we’ve spent so much money on the network: more than $50 billion on fiber optic cables and those little green network boxes that have popped up on suburban verges everywhere.

How did we end up here?

When can we expect speeds like in Singapore, New Zealand, or the United States?

And why aren’t we hearing more about internet infrastructure this election?

The long and winding information superhighway

Remember something called the NBN?

Experts have called the prolonged and costly rollout of the National Broadband Network “Australia’s greatest infrastructure disaster”.

It’s both the reason the national median speed for fixed-line broadband is low — and the only way to make it any better.

Kevin Rudd inspects cabling to be used for the NBN, during the 2013 election campaign.(Getty: Stefan Postles)

In 2009, the Rudd government announced it would build a modern fiber optic telecommunications network.

Those outside the network footprint would be provided broadband access through fixed wireless and satellite technologies.

All up, it was estimated the NBN would cost $41 billion.


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