Labor or Liberal, it's Telstra's election

Summary:If there was ever evidence that the stoush over broadband had gotten personal, it came when Telstra's sour-grapes mentality led it to sue Helen Coonan, personally, for claimed procedural flaws in the OPEL contract.

If there was ever evidence that the stoush over broadband had gotten personal, it came when Telstra's sour-grapes mentality led it to sue Helen Coonan, personally, for claimed procedural flaws in the OPEL contract.

Telstra's effort to prove she is a lying, conniving cheat hit a major setback after the case was thrown out of Federal Court, but the country's most complaining telco may get another chance to stick it to the Senator after what is being held as a major victory by both camps.

That victory was Telstra's decision to flip on the ADSL switch at 211 rural exchanges, predominantly in Victoria and Queensland, whose residents can now get broadband for the first time (see the full list of exchanges here).

For the first time in a long time, Telstra is flipping switches rather than flipping the bird.

Telstra, of course, blames the government for the delay in delivering broadband to the good people of Booleroo Centre, Mypolonga, Orroroo, Ouse, Molyullah and other places with fun-to-say names.

However, looking beyond the finger-pointing this is great news for another completely different reason: for the first time in a long time, Telstra is flipping switches rather than flipping the bird.

The cynic in me, however, notes the surprising coincidence of this newfound agreement and the upcoming election.

Telstra has made no secret of its efforts to turn faster Facebook access into an election issue, and it has succeeded marvellously: "broadband" has even entered the lexicon of the nightly news anchors. Labor has used every news bite to slam Coonan's broadband plan, pushing a proposal that looks a lot like Telstra's own previous suggestion.

While Telstra continues to fight for its right to do as it wants, Senator Coonan has worked to convince the country that the Coalition-backed OPEL consortium is the right way forward. A media release issued by the Senator this week -- just before the caretaker period commenced -- highlighted a small win in the form of Optus's delivery of ADSL2+ to the Adelaide-area electorate of Boothby.

I'm not an expert on Adelaide geography, but a bit of sniffing tells me that the division of Boothby (PDF document), is a wealthy Liberal-leaning enclave covering 123 square kilometres immediately south of Adelaide proper. Its 90,184 active voters (if Wikipedia's entry is to be believed) are spread across around 40 suburbs. And if you read Coonan's release, you'll learn that just one of those suburbs -- Blackwood -- is actually getting ADSL2+.

Here we have a perfect example of how broadband has been politicised beyond belief: in an effort to score points for OPEL (which of course feeds off of Optus's success), the installation of just one DSLAM into just one exchange, in one suburb, is trumpeted as a political success for the Coalition.

Were we not in caretaker mode, we might anticipate more regular updates as Optus slowly totters across marginal electorates, dropping DSLAMs anywhere the Coalition needs a few votes.

In a huge irony, Telstra meanwhile is showing that it can, with the flick of a switch, bring broadband to more than 200 suburbs across the country. Its executives have already stated openly that they have hundreds more exchanges ready to go -- if the legislative environment suits its whim.

In true "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" style, Telstra's outspoken executives are naturally hoping for a Labor win so they have some less resistant politicians to work on.

And perhaps this is why they finally signed on the dotted line with the government rather than holding out -- to remind the world that it is still Telstra that carries the market force, and that it is still Telstra that will ultimately determine the speed with which ADSL2+ is rolled out.

For voters that care about broadband, that fact alone may be enough to convince many to put their weight with the company that has the power to get them faster BitTorrents, sooner rather than later.

Telstra would clearly relish a more-friendly Labor government (although Phil Burgess declined to confirm this explicitly when I asked him this question during a presentation earlier this year).

And, as far as the effort to broadband Australia goes, this show of power could lend real ammunition to the Labor camp. Voters, in the end, will be forced to choose between what is right, and what is faster; let's hope the right decision gets made in the end.

What do you think -- has Telstra managed to one-up Coonan by breaking the rural broadband drought? Would you prefer Telstra broadband everywhere faster, or competitive broadband in the longer term? How will the parties' broadband policies change your vote?

Topics: Telcos, Broadband, Government, Government : AU, IT Employment, Telstra

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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