Australia to Build $31B Fiber Broadband Network

The Australian government said today it will spend up to A$43 billion ($30.67 billion) to help set up a national broadband network. This is far from a purely socialist undertaking, however, as private sector involvement is expected as well. Regardless of where the funding comes from, the scope of the project is such that it’s going to revolutionize the Australian landscape.

By 2018 at least 90 percent of Australians will have access to speeds of around 100 megabits per second, mostly through a fiber network that will be built by a company formed expressly for this task. The remaining 10 percent will get their broadband via wireless or satellite links. The network is expected to be complete in 7-8 years, but the government plans to sell its stake in the company within five years.

Local incumbent Telstra will face some serious competition and will likely be forced to step up its game. “It’s time for us to bite the bullet on this,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in a statement. “The initiative announced today is a historic nation-building investment focused on Australia’s long-term national interest.”

And while one should take everything a politician says with a pound of salt, in this case Rudd is right. Just like investments in railroad systems and highways transformed societies over the past two centuries, broadband networks can do the same for societies in the new millennium. Exposure to next-generation broadband gives entrepreneurs and engineers a chance to tinker and come up with some interesting ideas. Had it not been for early exposure to broadband in Sweden, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis couldn’t have come up with Skype. And having met some of the entrepreneurs out of Australia, I know it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing innovative ideas bubble up from Down Under. Other countries would be well-advised to a cue from the Aussies!