Mixed response to Australia Connected announcement

Communications Alliance welcomes taskforce

There has been a mixed response to the federal government's $1.9 billion broadband plan for Australia with one IP carrier claiming it raises more questions than answers.

While Internode managing director, Simon Hackett, welcomed the announcement for encouraging competition, he also warned the 'devil is in the detail'.

ICT minister Helen Coonan yesterday announced the Australia Connected infrastructure initiative to roll-out ADSL 2+ and WiMAX to 99 percent of Australia by 2009.

The initiative will receive $958 million from the $1.85 billion Broadband Connect program and more than $900 million from OPEL, a joint venture between Optus and rural service provider Elders, and promises speeds of 12 Mbps for most rural areas by expanding WiMax infrastructure.

Hackett said the selection of the Optus/Elders OPEL joint venture to deliver regional broadband would increase competitive pressures on backhaul pricing.

This is despite Coonan claiming it will reduce regional backhaul costs by up to 30 percent.

Coonan also announced the immediate creation of a Fibre-to-the-Node (Fttn) watchdog taskforce, chaired by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) secretary Patricia Scott, to attempt to pry-open debates and set a deadline for competitive FttN submissions.

"There is no rational way to form a belief that the government's expert panel can magically resolve the Telstra FTTN impasse before the election," Hackett said.

"There is a difference between speed and unseemly expediency here. The problem is that the devil is in the details and we don't have the details yet.

"After months of silence, this announcement actually adds more questions than answers. Both the broadband industry and the consumers of Australia await the details to allow proper assessment of whether this initiative is good, bad, or indifferent for Australia."

Hackett said the announcement held no positive news for residents in regions where Internode was building broadband networks until the federal government cancelled the Broadband Connect scheme in March.

"The Australian Broadband Guarantee process remains stalled," he said.

"The guidelines and application forms are still not available for the intended July 1 start."

Commenting on the establishment of a FTTN expert taskforce, Communications Alliance CEO, Anne Hurley, said it was a positive move.

"The taskforce will help ensure an open and transparent process for assessment of bids to build a fibre-to-the-node network," she said.

"Also, the taskforce's call for industry consultation on the development of guidelines is a positive move in the immediate commencement of the competitive bids process for Australia's optic-fibre roll out.

"By including this input from the wider industry, the taskforce suggests that the process will be an open and positive one."

While the process established by the taskforce will ultimately decide who actually builds the new network, Hurley said it is an opportunity for the Communications Alliance to lead industry collaboration and co-operation to migrate to the new infrastructure.

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