Coonan caught out over broadband sledge

Senator Helen Coonan criticises OECD broadband rankings that her own department worked on

After slamming the OECD's findings on global broadband rankings as inaccurate, and accusing the Labor party of misleading the Australian public on its broadband adoption, IT minister, Senator Helen Coonan, may have some pie to clean from her face after an OECD spokesperson claimed the Minister's department had been directly involved in the formulation of the findings she was criticising.

The saga started last week when telecommunications analyst firm, Market Clarity, released a report that accused the OECD of using inaccurate data and methodologies to devise its global broadband rankings.

"The OECD's broadband rankings, while providing an interesting snapshot of broadband adoption are not sufficiently rigorous or accurate to inform the basis of national policy making," read the report.

Market Clarity's report offered an alternative method for ranking broadband performance that moved Australia from 16th position to as high as sixth in the world for broadband performance.

"Under no measure does the OECD's 16th position assessment stack up," Coonan agreed. "Once pulled apart by Market Clarity, the flaws are so obvious it's like comparing apples and pears."

Upon release of the Market Clarity report, Coonan immediately jumped on the front foot, using the findings to launch a scathing attack at the Labor party which she claimed had used the OECD statistics to support its case about the poor state of broadband in Australia.

"Labor's doomsday rhetoric on broadband has come back to haunt them as this latest report sinks their claim that Australia is a broadband backwater," Senator Coonan said. "It's back to the drawing board for Labor and they will now have to come up with some new misleading data to criticise Australia's broadband standing."

But who is really misleading whom? According to the OECD, it was the Minister's own department, the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, which contributed to the published statistics she chose to use as ammunition to launch her attack.

OECD communications analyst, Taylor Reynolds, said the OECD relied on regulators, ministries and national statistical offices to supply data on broadband subscribers for the global rankings.

When collating its broadband rankings for Australia, the OECD has traditionally sourced data from the ACCC and the ABS, but as the ACCC stopped reporting broadband statistics last year, the OECD had to look to other sources, Reynolds told Computerworld. Cue DCITA.

"Data is supplied by our experts in member countries ranging across regulatory authorities, the ministries responsible for communications policy, and official statistical agencies," Reynolds said. "We worked closely back and forth with the ACCC and DCITA to come up with these estimates based on ABS data. DCITA provided guidance in producing our estimates for December 2006."

When Computerworld questioned about DCITA's involvement, a spokesperson for Coonan denied the department had any involvement in working with the OECD on the statistics. Further enquiries to clarify the situation went unheeded.

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War of words

Meanwhile, Market Clarity's findings have since come under attack from the OECD for the same accusations Market Clarity flung at the body to begin with.

"The OECD's report is insufficiently sourced, making it difficult to account for discrepancies between national data and that published by the OECD," read the Market Clarity report.

But just 24 hours after it was published, the OECD hit back at the telecommunications analyst with similar claims.

"The recent report by the consultancy firm Market Clarity, focusing on one of the indicators we publish, does not fall into the category of informed criticism and has serious methodological and factual error," the OECD wrote in a statement.

"Market Clarity's omission of current, official data sources and subsequent estimation of broadband totals undermines the statistical validity of the report's findings. In addition, Market Clarity has chosen to adopt a different methodology for counting broadband than the OECD but then applies it inconsistently."

Market Clarity CEO, Shara Evans, defended the report stating that some of the data the OECD collected from other countries was so thin and ambiguous it proved difficult to draw conclusions.

"Each country is collecting data in different ways, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to compare, which is why we tried to put forward a real discussion about the limits of international data and some of the questions that arise when you look at the source documents," she said.

"In the highly charged politically environment that we're in, where people have been using the numbers in the reports for point scoring without an understanding of what underlies these numbers, some clarity in how these numbers are derived is called for and that's what we attempted to do."