Telstra has reaffirmed its commitment to regional Australia, provided the government offers up subsidies to prop up non-commercial areas, particularly for mobile services.
In a submission to the government's Regional Telecommunications Review (PDF), Telstra has detailed its achievements in improving telecommunications access in regional and remote Australia, including the launch of its long-term evolution (LTE) network in 80 regional locations across Australia, the installation of 2000 "TopHats" to include ADSL2+ services and a $264 million investment in increasing backhaul capacity in regional areas since 2008.
But despite this commitment, Telstra said that more partnerships involving government funds were required to roll out infrastructure to areas that were not commercially viable for the company.
"Telstra considers many factors when determining where to invest infrastructure that would benefit the local community. At times, it is not commercially viable for Telstra to invest in infrastructure as there is a low or negative return on investment," Telstra said. "In these instances, Telstra works with the local communities that have expressed a desire for additional infrastructure to determine what partnerships can be established to provide financial assistance. Telstra encourages these partnerships where it is beneficial to all parties."
Telstra pointed to the Regional Mobile Communications Program funded by the Western Australian Government to the tune of $39.2 million in the last budget that will develop mobile communications infrastructure in regional WA. Telstra has applied for this tender and said that, if successful in the bid, the program would "significantly increase our coverage footprint for both mobile voice and wireless broadband services within Western Australia".
In order to drive better investment in regional Australia, Telstra has asked the government to consider offering "further subsidies/rebates" for regional telecommunications.
In Optus' submission (PDF), the company noted it had invested $1.6 billion over the past three years, and had rolled out its "Optus Open" 3G network to 350 regional towns and called for the government to provide access to the digital dividend spectrum for LTE services in a staged release. This would mean that as towns have their analog television signal switched off, the free spectrum would be given over to telcos to deploy their LTE networks.
Optus said this would "increase competitive access to LTE services and bring forward significant economic productivity benefits, including new regional 4G services before 2015."
The telco also said that if the competition regulator's inquiry into Telstra's wholesale ADSL leads to greater regulation and lower prices, then this too would be a benefit for regional Australia while the government rolls out the National Broadband Network.
Submissions for the inquiry closed in early December, the committee is due to hand its report to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy by 5 March 2012.