Concerns the NBN's failing to address business needs

Will the NBN deliver the right service for 2, 011, 770 businesses and their staff?

The federal opposition, telco analysts and industry players have signaled with varying degrees of caution that the level of services, options and pricing that Australian SOHO and SMEs will get out of the National Broadband Network is worryingly unclear.

The toughest criticism of Senator Conroy's RFP came from shadow communications minister Bruce Billson, who said Conroy's gag order has resulted in far too little discussion about what the NBN might deliver to consumers, including the 96 percent of Australia's 2, 011, 770 businesses that employ less than 20 people.

"For businesses, large and small, it is particularly difficult to anticipate what the NBN might offer. Likely new service offerings are often described in terms of file sharing, new entertainment offerings and more punch for current applications, with guesstimates on price and performance.

"This makes it extremely difficult for businesses to anticipate whether the business case for them will provide significant net benefits," Billson told Computerworld.

This was one of the reasons why the opposition launched a Senate Inquiry into the NBN RFP; to determine service availability, choice and costs; competition in services; and consequences for national productivity, investment, economic growth, cost of living and social capital for consumers, SOHOs and SMEs.

"It is unclear at this time whether the Rudd Government's approach to the NBN will enhance service, price and quality options for heavy data users or constrain them.

"Much depends on the yet-to-be-disclosed regulatory, competition and architectural arrangements that will accompany the NBN and so little is known about this, and [the federal] government's 'gag' orders are making open discussion about these factors even more difficult," he said.

Dr Paul Brooks of telco analyst Layer 10 Communications, said that most of the debate on the NBN so far has focused on residential broadband.

"In the business areas there hasn't really been a focus on what the NBN would bring for business users. The assumption seems to be that speeds people have postulated for [residential services] will be OK for business users," he said.

Large enterprises in metropolitan areas are currently well served by Fibre-to-the-Building, he said, but the potential needs of smaller businesses that do or are looking to deploy for example, IP or VPN type services, could miss out.

"It's the smaller businesses in residential areas -- people running businesses from home -- it's those organisations that may miss out on the wide variety of services that are typically offered to business customers... It will be interesting to see how the NBN network architecture deals with access to business services from homes," he said.

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