Telstra rivals' slow march to fibre network

Planning their own national fibre to the node broadband network appears to be moving at a glacial pace.

commentary A plan by Telstra's major rivals to build their own national fibre to the node (FTTN) broadband network appears to be moving at a glacial pace.

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
The group of telcos known as the G9 -- including high-profile companies like Optus, AAPT and Macquarie Telecom -- initially proposed the idea in April last year, in the midst of uncertainty as to whether Telstra's own plans would actually go ahead.

In August Telstra shelved its FTTN proposal until further notice, citing a disagreement with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over the cost of providing services to the bush.

Since that time, the G9 has released scarcely any detail about their activities. While Telstra's wrangling with the ACCC was the stuff of daily record, in the last 10 months the G9's plans have seldom made the press in any form.

You would imagine the G9 would have taken every opportunity to grab the limelight with its own brain child. But the group appears to be a bit shy.

Of course, work is going on behind the scenes. Macquarie Telecom's national executive for Regulatory and Government Matt Healy told your writer last week that the G9 was continually updating the ACCC and the federal government on its progress.

In addition, South African bank Investec has been recruited to help out with some of the financial nitty-gritty involved in planning a multi-billion dollar network whose return on capital invested has already proven to be a sticky issue.

But why is it taking so long? Surely the G9 have a wealth of expertise in building networks by now ... and they're all motivated by the common goal of taking Telstra down. What details still need to be hammered out before action can be taken?

And what about keeping the rest of the nation in the loop?

In stark contrast, Telstra has used the same period to maximum advantage, polishing off a gruelling 10-month build of its new nationwide Next G mobile broadband network in October. And in February the telco kicked off a massive effort to try and enlist the public in its campaign for revised telecommunications regulations.

A few words of advice for Optus and its compatriots: it wouldn't be hard to enlist that same public in the cause of the G9 proposal.

After all, the Australian public in general has consistently demonstrated a healthy degree of cynicism for Telstra's rhetoric, and has not hesitated to send its money elsewhere in the last 10 years following the deregulation of the telecommunications sector.

While Telstra's proposal ultimately failed, maybe the telco has been able to take decisive action since that time because it doesn't have to reach agreement with other telcos about its plans.

Are too many cooks spoiling G9's broth? Is the group dithering, or is there hard work going on behind the scenes? Drop me a line directly at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

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