Broadband snarled in political wrangle

Federal Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Daryl Williams has hit back at the Victorian ICT Minister for criticising the coalition government's contribution to regional broadband access.

Federal Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Daryl Williams has hit back at the Victorian ICT Minister for criticising the coalition government's contribution to regional broadband access.

Williams released a statement yesterday following comments made by Victorian minister, Marsha Thomson, saying that "while Ms Thomson is happy to welcome the Howard government's money into her State, her comments today demonstrate that she remains embarrassingly isolated and ignorant on broadband policy".

In a release issued yesterday, Thomson stated that the government has not provided rural Victorians with adequate access to broadband services, despite the region's increasing demand.

The state Minister referred to a report commissioned by the state government, "Spend/Demand - Telecommunications in Regional and Rural Victoria", claiming the government has only opted for ad hoc solutions for filling broadband black holes and that "real areas of need will continue to miss out".

"This report highlights that for many areas in Victoria demand is already strong enough to justify broadband supply," she said.

However, Williams has accused the Victorian minister of playing politics with broadband "rather than working with the Howard government to improve access to this important technology".

The federal Minister said that although his state counterpart was quick to criticise, she has failed to sign a National Broadband Strategy that Victorian officials helped to develop and her fellow state Labor colleagues have already signed.

According to the release the broadband strategy was specifically designed to improve broadband access for regional Australians.

Williams claims the Howard government is "actively spending" the AU$142.8 million it has allocated towards the scheme.

"It is ironic that Ms Thomson decided to launch her misguided attack on the same day I announced AU$2.8 million in funding for community-based broadband demand aggregation projects - including two in Victoria worth more than AU$550,000," Williams stated in the release.

Thomson also criticised the governments Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme (HiBIS), saying that it was an "ad hoc" solution, which may just turn out to be a "pork barreling exercise".

However, Williams said that many of the regions in demand for broadband that were mentioned in the state governments report will benefit from HiBIS.

"Contrary to Ms Thomson's claims, the HiBIS guidelines were developed only after extensive research into the broadband needs of rural and regional Australia," said the release.

Williams said he would also like to "remind Ms Thomson of two significant broadband projects recently funded by the Howard government in Victoria"; citing an AU$8 million rural health service in the Grampians and an AU$2 million health infrastructure project that it said "is improving broadband connectivity to more than 30 communities in North West Victoria".

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