Broadband advocacy Web site falls short

Broadband xchange, an initiative set in motion by the Service Providers Industry Association (SPAN), is attempting to provide independent advice to end users on available broadband options. The financial reality of running such a site, however, calls into question whether such advice is "independent".

Phil Singleton, SPAN's chairman and a member of the Federal Government's Broadband Advisory Group, said that one of the biggest obstacles to broadband uptake at present is consumer understanding.

"We have seen many of the obstacles removed or overcome through price reductions and the introduction of a much greater range of service capabilities and cost models, so now, more than ever, education and the need for independent information is key," he said.

SPAN is attempting to satisfy these needs in the form of a Web site (http://www.broadbandxchange.org), which aims to offer independent information on broadband technology as well as services to assist potential users understand how broadband can be the most appropriate Internet access solution for their business or home.

SPAN claims that the broadband xchange offers "plain English" information and provides businesses with non-vendor-specific information on broadband as a business tool as well as offering practical implementation help.

Questions have been raised, however, over how independent the site actually is. There are 25 companies listed as broadband providers on the site, but only four companies have links to sites offering information about their product. The list of companies is in alphabetical order except for Telstra, which is at the top of the list.

SPAN representatives told ARN that the broadband xchange site is supported by Alcatel, Microsoft and Telstra, which are the major financial contributors to the site.

Singleton said the site does not endorse or promote one provider over another. "All companies were asked to sponsor the site, and the ones that did have links to their own sites. Telstra is not favoured over any other provider. Telstra is a major sponsor of the site, and other companies with links paid the sponsorship fee," Singleton stated.

The sponsorship fee is a minimum of $5,000 a year, which entitles the service provider to a Web site link among other things. SPAN said that the fee is for running costs and maintenance of the site.

SPAN would not disclose the monetary amount that Telstra contributed to the site.

The site does have its share of quality information, including an investigation of broadband issues for first-time users such as cost, the process of being connected, and required hardware or software. But the site does not provide a comparison of all providers' service, speed and charges -- things a first-time user would need in order to feel comfortable with a purchasing decision.

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