Politics, Technology

How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout

The story of Australia’s costly internet bungle illustrates the hazards of mingling telecommunication infrastructure with the impatience of modern politics. The internet modernization plan has been hobbled by cost overruns, partisan maneuvering and a major technical compromise that put 19th-century technology between the country’s 21st-century digital backbone and many of its homes and businesses.

The government-led push to modernize its telecommunications system was unprecedented, experts say — and provides a cautionary tale for others who might like to try something similar.

Australia was the first country where a totally national plan to cover every house or business was considered, said Rod Tucker, a University of Melbourne professor and a member of the expert panel that advised on the effort. The fact it was a government plan didn’t necessarily make it doomed. In Australia, we have changes of governments every three years, which really works against the ability to undertake long-term planning, and the long-term rollouts of networks like this.

Australia poses natural connectivity challenges. It lies oceans away from other countries, and any network would have to connect far-flung cities separated by its sparsely populated interior.

Still, Australia had high hopes for its ambitious internet project. Started in 2009, the initiative, known as the National Broadband Network, was intended to bring advanced fibre-optic technology to the doorstep of just about every home and business. It was initially estimated to cost 43 billion Australian dollars, shared by the government and the private sector — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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