NBN universal service obligation should cater for wireless internet users: Swinburne University

Researcher makes case for free connectivity at ACMA Tune Up event

Not including wireless broadband under the National Broadband Network's (NBN) universal service obligation (USO) plan means some users won’t be covered if services goes down, Swinburne University Smart Services senior researcher, Scott Rickard, has warned.

Speaking at the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) Spectrum Tune-Up conference in Sydney, Rickard said this was the wrong approach to take as many people accessed the internet through a wireless, rather than fixed line, connection.

“If you’re a wireless user like myself, we’re not catered for under the new universal service obligations," she said. "We need to think about wireless users and how they are going to fit into any new structure.

"If something happens and they use their [wireless] connection, the government is not responsible for honouring a form of connection for them and that can have serious consequences for some members of our community."

Rickard put forward the option of the government providing Wi-Fi to the public such in Singapore, where the government provides hundreds of free Wi-Fi spots.

“There are some case studies in the US where a community in San Francisco put free Wi-Fi routers into people’s homes in the hope people would connect to the internet," she said. "These were people who didn’t have internet accesses before-hand."

Rickard was also concerned about the prohibitive cost of wireless broadband compared to fixed connectivity.

“As soon as you start using mobile broadband or internet the costs are expensive," she said. "If NBN is being supplied to us by the government and we than have to add on wireless connectivity, it is an issue. As wireless broadband connects into our lives it is going to have more incremental costs. One idea I am proposing is we do something radical and stop thinking about data as a form of payment, but having the content as paid."

Rickard said internet service providers should start thinking about providing free data.

“What I am concerned about is there are members in our society who will miss out if we continue to put more and more content online," she said.

"If they can’t afford to access that content via a wireless device, we’re going to exclude them from everyday life. If our government has to provide a level of service than how do we manage that?”

According to Rickard, if connectivity is provided for nothing, the government could recoup the cost through some of the services provided for fixed or wireless broadband.

“Under NBN we know there will be services that not everyone is going to want to pay for," she said. "Let’s consider paying for the additional content that we want."

The office of communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, confirmed that wireless broadband services are not part of the USO. The USO obligation ensures that standard telephone services and payphones are reasonably accessible to all Australians.

"However, the National Broadband Network will provide access (through infrastructure) to high speed broadband services to 100 per cent of premises through a mix of technologies such as fibre to the premises, next generation wireless and next generation satellite," a spokesperson told Computerworld Australia. "It will be up to service providers as to the retail service offered over each platform."

The Government’s universal service policy for the transition to theNBN was released in a policy statement in June.