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NBN approach less "chaotic" than US broadband: The Intelligent Community Forum

The growth of broadband in the US was more chaotic and viewed less as a national priority compared with the NBN, according to The Intelligent Community Forum.

Co-founder of the NY-based think tank, Louis Zacharilla, said broadband in the US revealed itself in pockets, which then led to a divide between the "digital rich and poor."

View our interactive NBN map

"It gave rise to some very significant communities, but as a whole, the US did not fully understand from a national policy level what broadband was capable of until quite recently," he said.

What the US Government did understand was the importance of broadband, which Zacharilla said is related to the nation's "innovative and inventive culture."

In Australia, Zacharilla said the importance of broadband as a national priority is understood at a top level.

"People understand that the national economy and social infrastructure needs to embrace it to move ahead over the next two or three generations," he said.

Zacharilla characterises the current state of broadband in Australia as "largely aspirational" in the terms of the criteria the think tank looks at.

"Having looked at the rollout cities and the NBN plan, there has been an embrace in the notion that broadband is going to be the economic social enabler that we see in other parts of the world," he said.

"Now it is about sorting through the details, such as necessary political issues, and moving forward in a way that is appropriate."

Zacharilla said broadband forms only one of five criteria that the think tank has established as being necessary for an "intelligent community."

"Once you get that piece, you have four other important ones to tackle," he said.

One difference Zacharilla highlights between the US and Australia is that that the former has been giving lip service to the rural dimension of broadband.

"I find that in Australia there is a serious discussion about how to connect the remote parts of the country," he said.

Differences such as these highlight to Zacharilla how different the two cultures are despite the numerous cultural commonalities.

"Winston Churchill was right when we said that the US will eventually come to the right conclusion after exhausting all other options, but that's the nature of a big, chaotic democracy," he said.

Chasing Stephen

Zacharilla is currently in Australia to speak at the Digital Productivity Conference (#digiconau) hosted by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, on June 12-13.

As for what he is looking forward to seeing at the event, Zacharilla said he will be keeping a close eye on the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, particularly how his current strategy compares to the original vision of the NBN.

"He is someone who has philosophically grasped the importance of broadband for the country a few years ago," he said.

"It has been a tough slog for him, but when you make these types of attempts and investments, it is expected."

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.

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