Government Technology
By Ulf Wolf: Citizen engagement and responsibility in the digital age.

To Fiber or Not To Fiber?

August 17, 2010 By

The Australian General Elections are coming up this Saturday, and one hot item on the political tickets is ubiquitous broadband. That means fiber to every home in the nation (well, almost every home) promising bandwidths of 100 mbps or more--to as high as 1 gbps.

According to a " The Australian " article just out, incumbent Labor is beating the fiber-to-the-home drum.

The Labor government claims it is embracing a vital technology that will do everything from improving national productivity to transforming health and education services to reducing congestion on the roads to giving small businesses and households access to a bright economic future.

Says the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, "Without this technology, we will fall behind. It's the same as saying we will export jobs to Singapore, to Korea, to Japan. Without this technology, our schoolchildren will fall behind."

The price tag? Oh, $43 billion Australian. And that will cover 93 percent of all Australian households. The remaining seven percent will be connected through a combination of wireless and satellite services, at lower, but still much improved speeds over current telephone network dial-ups.

Utopia? Well, on paper anyway. But someone will have to pay the $43 billion, of course, and that's Mr. and Mrs. Australian tax payer. And for what? Critics argue that to only benefit of speeds like this over the foreseeable future would be to allow faster high-definition movie downloads and faster computer gaming with like-minded teenagers in Estonia or Brazil.

Point, I think, well taken.

Is There A Need?

Is there in fact a productivity and life-enhancing need for 100 mbps or a full 1 gbps running all the way to the house by way of fiber?

I can only speak for myself in this instance. I am not a hospital that has to download detailed MRI scans at 500 mb a pop in seconds. I am connected via Time Warner cable at a fairly constant 10 mbps, and, honestly, as a writer and online researcher, it works pretty well for me. The slowdowns I experience from day to day are usually due to remote server congestion.


Add to this equation the constantly growing--and improving--wireless network, which soon--at least in Australia--will deliver 42 mbps to mobile devices such as phones and pads. That's four times my current connection speed, and if it were available here today, I'd probably jump on the wireless bandwagon in a heartbeat.

Although, lest we forget, wireless will degrade (just like cable) to the degree that the number of users grow. If everybody (I mean the word literally) were to access wireless networks hoping for 42 mbps, none of them would get it, at least not today.

With fiber, apparently, not this issue.


Also, the critics of monster bandwidth have a point. Most bandwidth today is used by gamers and digital downloaders/sharers. That spells entertainment which we can, quite easily, do without as activities that enrich not the soul, but the peddler in gaming and entertainment wares.

Believe me, 3D movies to the home is not the answer to the world's problems.

But there's always Moore's Law in the wings. The rate of technological advancement means that the $43 billion Australian today will probably be half of that in five years' time. At perhaps twice the bandwidth.

What to do with it all?

Me, I'm primarily a reader of books. Though, I confess, I do use the Sony PRS-600 Digital Reader. A very nice piece of digital wizardry indeed.

Bridging my private digital divide.


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Comments    |    Commented August 21, 2010

This is insane. $43 Billion to get instant HD downloads? I fear we're going to have these types of meg-budget items in the US, too, all under the guise of improved healthcare or some such nonsense. All they have to do is say "it's for the children," and everyone falls all over themselves. Anyway, thanks for the article. I hope, for their sake, the Australian voters make some noise about this.

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