Juicing Up Broadband Speeds Down Under

Apple co-founder Wozniak warms to Australia's proposed 12M bps national network, but cautions not to leave anyone out.  

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak believes Australian lawmakers should be more concerned about fair pricing than speed for its proposed fiber-to-the-node national broadband network. The Australian government has pledged to build a network with speeds of up 12M bps, reaching 98 percent of all of its citizens.

The Australian government plans to foot the cost of more than half of the estimated $8 billion project, a markedly different approach from the Unites States, where private enterprise is racing to complete fiber networks.

Wozniak, speaking at the Broadband and Beyond 2008 conference in Sydney March 5, called the Australians' 12M bps speed target adequate for the time being, but said the government shouldn't leave out or penalize people "who just live in the wrong place."

"One of my big hopes is that it's regulated in such a way that everyone is entitled to it at the same price," Wozniak said at a press conference at the conference. "Very often, when industry acts on its own, it just leaves out the few people that live on a hill or are hard to reach... They reach the masses well, but not the outsiders."

As for the speed of the network, he said 12M bps is an adequate starting speed, but warned the newness would soon wear off. "I think the people are going to be starting off with a bump in bandwidth that they're seeing, and after a while, when they want to do video in every room simultaneously, they'll start to feel pinched," he said.

Nevertheless, Wozniak said, it's a good starting point for a network that could be expanded to FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) to meet what he predicted would be increasing consumer demand for high speed Internet services.

"Fortunately, it's a decision that can be put off in time," he said. "In my country, one of the big phone companies, Verizon, is building fiber-to-the-home, and one of the other ones, AT&T, is building fiber-to-the-node or neighborhood. Each one has its own considerations."

In any event, Verizon's and AT&T's projects are an improvement over what most Americans currently receive as broadband service. According to Input, the average downstream speed of a U.S. broadband connection is 3.8M bps, while the average upstream speed is 980 Kbps. The average downstream FTTH speed is 8.8M bps, while cable modem connections averaged 4.9M bps and DSL averaged 2.1M bps.

"If you build a useful network today, you can expand it over time; you don't have to redo the actual infrastructure," Wozniak said.

Not surprisingly, for those living in the "wrong place," Wozniak touted wireless broadband services, although he was ambivalent about the government's role.

"I don't look at what the government should or shouldn't do," he said. "I think wired comes first, with the guarantee that everyone can get it ... more or less to guarantee a minimal level, not to guarantee that everything is for free. I think to guarantee that nobody's left out is one thing, but to guarantee the ultimate experience is another thing."