Australia announces $2.1 billion national network

The Australia Connected infrastructure initiative aims to roll-out ADSL2+ and WiMax to 99% of Australia by 2009

Australian ICT minister Helen Coonan last week launched the A$1.9 billion (NZ$2.1 billion) Australia Connected infrastructure initiative to roll-out ADSL2+ and WiMax to 99% of Australia by 2009.

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

However, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd responded by calling the plan “second-rate”. Rudd said Labor’s A$4.7 billion broadband proposal is far more effective providing the best coverage for those living in the city or rural areas.

“People in regional and rural areas deserve every bit as good a service as those in the big cities; our fibre optic to the node plan will offer high speed broadband to 98%of Australians regardless of where they live,” he said.

“When you look at some of the technical deficiencies in wireless, and problems in terms of being able to access speeds of 12Mbit/s using wireless, and given the overwhelming scientific consensus in favour of fibre optic to the node, we believe we’ve hit upon the right technology.”

Senator Coonan said OPEL joint venture will install ADSL2+ in 426 WiMax exchanges in regional and outer-metropolitan areas, and 15,000 kilometres of fibre-optic backhaul to link rural and city networks and broaden links across the Bass Strait.

“Australia has now entered into a whole new broadband era with speeds 20 to 40 times faster than those used by most consumers today, with the first Australia Connected broadband network services to be switched on immediately,” Coonan said, adding the plan will reduce regional backhaul costs by 30%.

The scheme will increase the availability of current ADSL2+ and WiMax services in rural and outer metro areas through a $600 million competitive grant and an additional $358 million in funding.

Meanwhile, Telstra, the Optus-lead G9 consortium and the ACCC continue to squabble over plans for a national fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network.

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

“The guidelines for the [FttN] competitive bids process will be developed by the Expert Taskforce in consultation with industry, and the Taskforce will settle a realistic timetable for the bids to be submitted and assessed,” Coonan said.

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