Libs to deny Conroy $2B broadband pool

Coalition locks down Communications Fund.

The government's fibre broadband purse could be $2 billion lighter following a coalition announcement that it will oppose legislation to pool the Communications Fund into the national broadband network coffers.

A communications bill will be voted in the Senate within the next two sittings that would provide a potential $2 billion contribution to the joint-funded Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) network.

The bill would effectively reverse former government amendments to the Telecommunications Act, which prevented Labor from using the fund as part of its $4.7 billion commitment to a FttN network.

Shadow communications minister Bruce Billson said the bill will stymie the broadband initiatives undertaken by remote communities which the provision funds.

"The Communications Fund is money in the bank and insurance for regional Australians that they won't be left behind by a digital divide.

"There is no single infrastructure project that will provide for service disadvantage forever, which is why the funds are needed to deal with the problem over time.

"The funding is there for regional Australians. There is a budget surplus which could be used [to fund the FttN network] instead."

He said the government has poured its energy into the national FttN network and is undermining its research into regional broadband solutions by reappropriating the Communications Fund.

Funds can be claimed by individuals, ISPs and community groups for expensive satellite connections, infrastructure builds, and supply of rural broadband at metro prices.

Billson said communities have pooled subsidies together to build out infrastructure including rural WiMAX networks.

The government can use $400 million in interest generated by the Communications Fund for non-regional initiatives.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde said the fibre network is a legitimate candidate for the funds.

"It is the job of the government to invest in national infrastructure like schools and roads, and fibre is no exception," Budde said.

"Many of these schemes were made to appease the market after the privatisation of Telstra. The government missed it's chance [for the structural separation of Telstra]."

Let us know your thoughts on the NBN in this week's Vent It: Is the Govt rushing the NBN build?

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Darren Pauli

Computerworld
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