Conroy ducks broadband deadline queries

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has declined to deny opposition claims that construction of the government's planned $4.7 billion national broadband network might not commence until July 2009.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has declined to deny opposition claims that construction of the government's planned $4.7 billion national broadband network might not commence until July 2009.

The Rudd Labor government had initially promised to deliver the first services over the network by the end of 2008.

However, last week Conroy revealed delays in receiving network information meant the government wouldn't receive bids to build the network until the end of this year. The deadline set in the original request for proposals was 25 June.

"We wouldn't be surprised if the roll out come this time next year has not commenced, considering all the work that has to be done," a spokesperson for Shadow Communications Minister Bruce Billson said yesterday.

Conroy did not directly deny the opposition's claim when responding yesterday via email, and today during a brief interview with ZDNet.com.au. Instead, he said the process had taken longer than expected, due to problems getting bidders to agree on the type of information necessary to complete a full proposal.

When asked when he believed the broadband build could begin, Conroy only answered: "It has been our ambition to start by the end of the year", without giving an updated estimate.

"There have been difficulties getting voluntary agreement to a data set sufficient to enable proponents to submit robust proposals," he said. "The scope of the information proposed is extensive, there are a range of stakeholders involved and it has taken longer to work through the issues than envisaged."

The specified time frames were always contingent on network information being available, he continued.

Despite the delays, Conroy believed pushing out the time frame to build the network was the right thing to do. "Given the important role that the national broadband network will play in the future delivery of economic and social benefits to Australia, it is important that time is taken to get fundamental issues right," he said.

The minister accused Billson of hypocrisy, saying the opposition had criticised time frames as being "unrealistic" and "dangerously truncated for no apparent reason" but then changing its tune to take the government to task for spending time getting information proponents needed.

Conroy's reason for playing coy on build dates was that the start time depended heavily on what sort of technologies were involved in the roll out.

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