Broadbanding the Nation: Lessons from Canada or Shortcomings in Australian Federalism?

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapter

Abstract

At federation, the former Australian colonies readily agreed to the Commonwealth’s ownership and control of the national telecommunications network, enshrined principally in section 51 of the Australian Constitution. Conversely, Canada’s telecommunications industry developed in diverse, regionally based markets consisting of a variety of private sector businesses and provincial and municipal government-owned enterprises. As telecommunications technologies converged with media and Internet-based technologies, the changing industry structures in both countries have led to quite different outcomes in high-speed broadband. Canada embraced the plurality of its industry structure with federal policy focused on educating the diverse policy communities, aggregating demand in local and regional markets, and ‘forbearance’ from regulatory interference in an effort to promote cross-platform competition. Canada’s policy choices resulted in Canada ranking fourth in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2007 in terms of broadband infrastructure access and speed of the services. On the other hand, Australia’s device-based industry structure, combined with its centrally-controlled communications policies, struggled to keep pace with the converging technologies and effectively prevented local and regional interests from being heard in a debate dominated by the federal government, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Telstra, and professional lobbyists. Local and regional interests were effectively ignored while Telstra blamed the federal government and ACCC for the state of Australia’s broadband infrastructure and speeds which rank well below the OECD average. During the 2008 federal election, Kevin Rudd announced the Labor Party’s intention — if elected — to massively extend the reach of broadband technology as an essential element in nation-building. This chapter reflects on the implications for nation-building of Australia’s centrally-controlled federal communications policy, and its long history of government-controlled, one-size-fits-all infrastructure solutions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAustralia Under Construction
Subtitle of host publicationNation building past, present and future
EditorsJohn Butcher
Place of PublicationCanberra
PublisherANU Press
Chapter10
Pages127-146
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781921313783
ISBN (Print)9781921313776
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008

Publication series

NameAustralia and New Zealand School of Government

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