The bush broadband gold rush

commentary AU$3 billion is a lot of money by anyone's reckoning. That's why many telcos' ears pricked up when communications minister Helen Coonan announced last week she was considering making some of that dough available to consortiums interested in building a wholesale bush broadband access network.

commentary AU$3 billion is a lot of money by anyone's reckoning.

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
That's why many telcos' ears pricked up when communications minister Helen Coonan announced last week she was considering making some of that dough available to consortiums interested in building a wholesale bush broadband access network.

The funds -- which make up the government's Connect Australia package -- had previously been allocated on a per-customer basis.

However, that rule could now be changed, Coonan indicated on the morning of the second day of the annual conference of the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG).

The news was a great hangover cure for executives with sore heads from ATUG's annual awards ceremony the night before. And the industry was quick to respond.

At least one consortium is already forming, coordinated by veteran telecomms analyst and broadband evangelist Paul Budde.

"I would now propose forming a consortium along the lines the Minister is asking for," Budde said in a statement widely distributed by e-mail last Friday.

Budde is gathering a wide range of parties to a public meeting today at Sydney's Observatory Hotel in an effort to get a consortium off the ground.

Some of the key players likely to be involved have been formed from the telecommunications assets of electricity utilities.

For example, Silk Telecom and Nexium Telecommunications will present a blueprint for a new wholesale industry association to kickstart the proposed consortium.

The move was foreshadowed last week when Silk's chief executive Simon Perkins said in a phone interview with your writer that Silk -- which operates optical fibre cable around South Australia and Victoria -- was pursuing commercial agreements with other members of the Utilitel group Budde helped found.

The group is composed of geographically diverse utilities interested in cooperating with regards to their telecommunications assets.

Budde has demonstrated in the past his strong ability to bring together different telecommunications players to achieve joint outcomes. Utilitel and the burgeoning cooperation between electricity utilities in general is one example of this.

However, depending on who turns up, today's meeting will likely test the veteran's abilities. Some of the players involved will undoubtedly be direct competitors and have infrastructure in the same areas.

Budde has invited a wide range of competing retail and wholesale providers. One of the few things that unites these telcos is their naked disdain for anything related to Telstra.

However Coonan's AU$3 billion pot is a strong incentive to work together, and if Budde's plans come to fruition, end users will clearly be the beneficiaries.

Just about any initiative that will stimulate broadband infrastructure development in regional areas is to be strongly encouraged.

What do you think about the minister's proposal? Will it stimulate bush broadband or simply fatten up some of Australia's existing telcos? Send your thoughts to renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

For more views from the trenches of Australian telecommunications, visit my blog:
Full Duplex
http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/fullduplex

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