Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Netherlands Australia Broadband Roundtable

This year it 400 years ago that Abel Tasman set foot in what is now Australia. At this occasion several events are held. One of them is the Netherlands Australia Broadband Roundtable with Australian and Dutch participants., among which Fred Kappetijn, one of the directors of Mobillion. The Roundtable was organised by Paul Budde of, a Dutch immigrant and telecom consultant. He wrote the following report:

The Netherlands Australia Broadband Roundtable was a great success. This can be measured in several ways …….

First of all, the enthusiasm was obvious from the delegates’ feedback, not only during the day but also via a number of follow-up emails. I have sent these through to the organisers on the Dutch side (Ministry of Economic Affairs – this portfolio encompasses telecoms – the Minister for Social Welfare, the sponsors of the Trade Mission and the Dutch Embassy, with whom I had organised the event) so that they can share in this positive feedback as well.

Secondly, on the following day very positive and extensive reports were published in CommsDay and Computer Daily. There may have been others but these two really stood out.

And finally, the success of the event was evident from the support and enthusiasm of the Australian Government. Both sides took part in some very productive intergovernmental discussions on policies and strategies - more on that below.

But perhaps the most important outcome, and the best indication of success, is that both governments have agreed to an Australian Trade Mission to the Netherlands later this year. I was able to promote this activity at the Roundtable, thanks to the support I received from Austrade. Their support gave the initiative further credibility.

Obviously a recurring theme was the leading role the Netherlands plays in broadband, and this was looked at from various perspectives.

One angle focused on the government policies and strategies that supported this development. The Dutch delegates were honest in admitting that there had been a bit of luck involved. As they have had a separate infrastructure for cable TV since the 70s and 80s, this infrastructure, in the late 90s, became the catalyst for broadband growth. The cable companies led the broadband charge and the telco (KPN) was forced to follow.

With a more forceful regulator (OPTA) the country has also been more successful in enforcing ULL, but this was clearly seen as far less significant than the facilities-based competition between telcos and cable companies.

The Dutch also, quite vocally, debunked the myth that there might not be the level of demand for broadband speeds and services, as was suggested by Telstra. What they did agree on was that the future for new business models is more uncertain and riskier, but that only by moving into this market will companies learn to work with this and find out where the new opportunities exist.

The result of all these rapidly evolving broadband developments is a range of mind-boggling services. The homecare application from Sensire was perhaps the favorite. Via their television, aged people have a very simple and direct video link (two-way) with carers and specialists, as well as with family and friends.

The Australian Department of Health and Ageing showed great interest in this application.

Equally, applications such as ‘Sugababes’ and Bibop TV demonstrated the potential of video-based communication services, all wrapped around IPTV.

Several follow-up discussions subsequently took place between companies and organisations on both sides regarding these new developments, which will hopefully lead to some bilateral business as well.

It was also good to see support from the Australian Minister for Communications for a hands-off approach regarding the regulation of new IPTV developments, as has been ruled by the European Commission and supported by the Dutch Government. She also indicated that there had been some misreporting on this in Australia, as she definitely is not in favour of new regulations here.

Returning to the subject of infrastructure-based competition, the FttH project in Amsterdam was another topic that popped up in various discussions. Also of interest to the Australian delegates were the Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) that are used for such infrastructure projects.

After the Sydney tunnel fiasco a rethink is taking place in Australia about PPP projects, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps DCITA could have a follow-up discussion with the City of Amsterdam to study the possibilities of such models in telecoms.

This, of course, is becoming more urgent and relevant here, as the Minister has clearly indicated that, under the Connect Australia project, she is interested in working with the industry on an alternative wholesale access network for regional Australia. Today (11 April) I am organising the second industry meeting on this topic.

At the Netherlands Australia Roundtable the Minister very publicly supported my industry initiative, which, of course, provided an additional stimulus for the industry to move further and faster in this direction.

During the event the connection was also made between the Dutch success in broadband and the Minister’s new infrastructure initiative. This was picked up by the press, and was highlighted in their reporting as one of the most significant outcomes of the day.

I am now about to start a special interest group (by email) in relation to the Australian Trade Mission to the Netherlands. The 120 delegates from last week’s Roundtable are all on this list. Please let me know if anyone else is interested and they will be sent follow-up information as well. The proposed Mission will also be open to delegates from New Zealand and others in our region.

Paul Budde


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