Yesterday's Crikey had a letter from Rachel Dixon that rather eloquently said what I've said before about the National Broadband Network projects aim of connecting 98% of the population to "metro-equivalent" broadband, or 12 megabits-per-second.
The crux of Rachel's argument is that she has a sister-in-law in Nundle, a town of 289 souls out towards Tamworth. It has excellent air quality and no aircraft noise, but isn't blessed with particularly good access to broadband. Rachel, on the other hand, has poor air quality and loud, regular planes flying overhead in inner-city Sydney, but access to very fast broadband. So if the residents of Nundle are to get the excellent broadband, why can't we demand country-equivalent air quality and serenity?
This is the big problem with setting the bar to 98% of the population. We haven't comitted to providing 98% of the population with sealed roads, reticulated water and gas, or town sewage. I bet a big chunk of the final 5% don't even have grid electricity! What about guaranteeing them access to metro-equivalent hospital services? I'm within walking distance of a fair number of hospitals, so shouldn't the good people of Nundle also have the same? Why is broadband so different?
If a business or family chooses to locate itself in a remote area, is it really the government's job to provide the services they would get if they located themselves somewhere closer to the population centres? Shouldn't there be some social and economic cost to locating yourself in a remote area? There are certainly costs associated with locating yourself in a big city: air quality, peace and quiet, land costs.