The nation's number two telco, Optus, has defended its investment in Tasmania after the revelation that a number of the sites that it announced on the weekend that will shortly receive 3G mobile coverage in the state were first earmarked for network roll-outs back in 2008.
The telco announced a $25 million investment in Tasmania on Sunday, noting that over 45 towns "for the first time" would have a choice between mobile network providers — they previously only had access to the infrastructure of Telstra. However, a number of towns listed as receiving Optus mobile coverage — Bridport, Queenstown, Scottsdale, St Helens, St Mary's and Zeehan — were also listed in a similarly worded 2008 media release (PDF), which announced a nationwide investment of $315 million.
"With this significant expansion, we will be the only mobile carrier capable of challenging the incumbent's network reach in Tasmania," the telco's Networks managing director Gunther Ottendorfer said this week in a statement from Optus. In 2008, Optus chief executive Paul O'Sullivan had similar sentiments: "With this significant expansion, we will be the only mobile carrier capable of challenging the incumbent's network reach."
Asked to comment on what certainty Tasmanians could have that Optus would deliver on its promises the second time around, Optus Mobile Network Director Andrew Smith said that the company had instigated a "reprioritisation" in its 2008 program to meet "growing data demands", delaying a small number of sites as a consequence. "They have not received funding as part of yesterday's announcement."
Yesterday's announcement made Optus "a competitive alternative provider in Tasmania" and demonstrated Optus' commitment to the state, he said. "Currently, Optus covers 93 per cent of the Tasmanian population, and this will increase to 96 per cent."
However, despite the re-run of the 2008 announcement, some Tasmanians are still positive about the growing amount of telecommunications competition in the state. Vodafone is believed to be running a distant third in terms of the number of base stations it owns in the Apple Isle, but Optus is gradually catching up to Telstra.
Andrew Connor, a spokesperson for technology advocacy group Digital Tasmania, said that in actual fact, many of the Optus sites announced this week had already been rolled out over the past couple of years, with the remainder to flow in the short term. "It's a massive win for consumers, especially those who have had no choice," he said.
In the town of Scottsdale, Connor pointed out, only a short while ago, residents and businesses only had access to Telstra mobile coverage and Telstra fixed-line broadband based on its copper network. Now it would have both Optus mobile coverage and National Broadband Network fibre.