Construction on the $250 million regional backhaul part of the Federal Government's National Broadband Network plan could start by September this year, according to government documents released this afternoon.
Backhaul refers to backbone telecommunications links that connect metropolitan areas together.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said today the investment would be "fast tracked" and has released a stakeholder consultation paper to find out information such as which regional centres should be addressed with the funding, the technical parameters of rolling out the backhaul links as well as arrangements for funding, the delivery of services and the ownership of the links.
Within the paper, there is an "indicative" timetable which has the consultation period ending in May, followed by a request for tender. The responses for the tender would be due in June, and the tenders would be evaluated by July, with work to begin in September.
"We want to work closely with all stakeholders and move quickly to make these investments," Conroy said in a statement. The roll-out will target areas where there is limited competition because there is only a single provider (usually Telsra) of the backhaul service.
The ACCC has confirmed that areas with only one provider of backhaul services include Geraldton in Western Australia, Mt Gambier in South Australia, Broken Hill in New South Wales, Mildura in Victoria, Mt Isa in Queensland, and Darwin in the Northern Territory.
The Western Australian Government has already said that it considers the link between Perth and Geraldton to be of great importance to the state, particularly as such a link would increase its chances of being the host of the radio astronomy development square kilometre array.
The speedy influx of funds into broadband would act as a stimulus, according to Conroy. "High-speed broadband will revitalise our regions, provide new job opportunities, drive efficiency and improve the delivery of social services," he said.
The new backhaul could also mean further DSLAM (ADSL equipment) investment in telephone exchanges, with iiNet managing director Michael Malone having said recently that his company would look to putting DSLAMs in regional centres if the backhaul was made available.
Submission papers are due 12 May 2009, after which the tender process will commence.