In many parts of Europe and Asia, broadband speeds on wired and wireless networks are much faster than the speeds that American consumers have available. The U.S. has plans to use the wireless spectrum vacated by analog TV broadcasts to help fix the broadband availability issue, but it will be years before most of the new networks are up and running on the spectrum.
Other countries around the world are also working to make broadband connections faster and available to more of the population. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an announcement today that none of the five bidders for the national network for broadband were able to meet the needs of consumers.
Australia has been taking bids for a national fiber optic network for a while. Among the bidders were Telstra and Optus, two of the largest networks in the country. With none of the five bidders meeting the needs of the national fiber optic network, Rudd announced that the Australian government and private industry would be investing $30.6 billion USD over the next eight years in a speedy fiber optic network that will include fiber optic cable connected to homes, not just to the street corner telco boxes.
By providing the majority of the $30.6 billion investment, the Australian government will be the majority owner of the fast network when it is fully installed. Private sector investment will be limited to 49% of the network costs to ensure the government is the majority owner. Plans for the network call for download speeds of up to 100 Mbps and the network will be operated independently of the Telstra and Optus networks.
Rudd says that at the peak of construction the new network will provide 37,000 jobs, a significant boost to the economy during the global recession. When complete, the fiber-to-the-premises network will run to 90% of the homes and business in the country with the additional 10% being served by speedy wireless and satellite connections good for up to 12 Mbps. The initial investment from the government will be $4.7 billion and the government will sell its interests in the network within five years of completion.
Analyst Lauren Holt said, "The investment by the Government creates an alternative to Telstra's fixed-line network over time, effectively re-nationalizing part of the fixed-line industry in Australia."
The new network will mean that Telstra will have less of a chokehold on internet access in Australia and the company is expected to fight the government in courts to try to prevent the new network from accessing its existing network of copper wire. Some analysts say that the network could be delayed by five or ten years as Telstra fights a long legal campaign. However, the Australian government says that it will change legislation to prevent Telstra from harming the project and preventing the fast network from being installed.
Australia's planned 100 Mbps network is fast, but in Japan the J:Com network runs at 160Mbps, making it significantly faster than what Australia has planned. At the same time the speeds for broadband downloads are going up, many providers are setting caps on the download limits that offset some of the usefulness of the faster platform. In the U.S. Time Warner is rolling out metered internet access to some parts of the country.