Liberals: Rudd is raiding bush broadband cash

Bruce Billson, the Liberal communications spokesperson, has taken aim at Labor's plans to draw on money from the previous government's communications fund to build its fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network.

Bruce Billson, the Liberal communications spokesperson, has taken aim at Labor's plans to draw on money from the previous government's communications fund to build its fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network.

Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner proposed an amendment to legislation ringfencing the AU$2 billion fund late last week, which would grant the Rudd government access to the fund to use for expenses related to the construction and rollout of its planned national FTTN network.

"Labor's proposal aims to make the fund fair game for any broadband related expenditure Prime Minister Rudd or Communications Minister Stephen Conroy consider politically expedient," said Billson in a statement.

"The Bill also allows the Rudd government to buy shares or other interests in companies, make unconditional grants to telcos or even directly purchase assets and equipment connected to a broadband network."

The interest currently earned from the fund is estimated to be worth around AU$400 million every three years, which the previous government had planned to re-invest into communications and broadband infrastructure across rural and regional Australia over the same period.

Labor's proposal could see collateral for the national broadband network taken from the interest earned from the fund, and potentially from the core AU$2 billion fund itself.

Billson accused the federal government of dismantling plans to remedy the "digital divide" between metropolitan and rural and regional areas of the country by trying to access the funds, saying the government was taking money "away from the bush to spend taxpayer funds on a vague, city-centric plan that Minister Conroy can't even describe".

In an interview with ZDNet.com.au last week Billson said: "The Rudd government is completely muddled as far as its plans for the future, they've ridiculed the use of wireless as a solution for the bush at one stage, now they've realised that it could play a very distinct role."

According to Billson, the federal government is exhibiting a lack of foresight in its current approach to funding communications and broadband infrastructure across the country.

"Technology will move on and consumer expectations will inevitably increase over time," he said. "That's exactly why the fund's important, because it enables rural and regional Australia to benefit over time; now Labor's trying to pinch that money for other things."

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