Our friends at Digital Education Research Network (DERN) alerted me to an interesting review of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) which is largest capital project ever undertaken by the Australian government. The NBN is a 43 billion dollar, 8 year project begun in 2010 which “will deliver high-speed broadband to all Australians” through provision of a wholesale connectivity to thousands of Internet providers throughout the country. They have an ambitious goal of providing fibre to the end user for 93% of users.

The Australian’s were seeing their connectivity continue to lag behind other developed countries – in terms of connectivity, use and end-user costs.  The OECD (2010) rated Australia 18th most connected country (23.4% of citizens compared to the Netherlands as most connected with 36% of citizens using broadband and Canada in 12th place with 30%.

Of recent interest is the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate the role and potential of the NBN.  The terms of the committee are both interesting and very broad. They empower the committee to investigate the current and potential value of broadband networking to education, health and other services.

Canada has had a mix mash of programs over the last twenty years to stimulate and support the building of a national digital infrastructure and a number of provinces developed similar provincial initiatives. However, with the exception of a few small projects funded by Canarie related to education and health use and a brief (and now nearly forgotten) foray into community and educational networking our national government seems to have lost all interest in stimulating, researching or even caring how or if these networks are used. It seems as if we wait (eternally??) for the private sector to become interested in health and educational networking and rely on the ad hoc and sporadic initiatives of individual teachers, schools and hospitals.  We seem to have somehow not realized that both education and health spending are dominated (in Canada and many countries of the world) by public spending. Thus, to insure that taxpayers are getting maximum service for their expenditure, there is an obligation to continuously refine, experiment and enhance public offerings.

The Australian parliamentary committee,  as a first activity, requested public submissions related to any aspects of its broad terms of reference and received 210 responses from a wide variety of  citizens, education, health and businesses.  Many of the education related submissions called for efforts at not only connecting schools, but in supporting training and opportunities for online professional development networks and also to stimulate experimentation into effective  learning activities that utilize the networks.

I applaud this Australian investment and only hope that Canadian governments realize that just connecting Canadians  will allow the easy gains- business efficiencies, citizen access to gambling and social networking, but does not mean we are developing the kind of services and experiences needed for healthy and wise life in our networked world.