Alice Springs sideswipes Telstra in wireless push

Alice Springs' council is poised to sign an agreement with Veridas Communications for city-wide wireless broadband, reducing its dependence for services on what one alderman claims is an "uncooperative" Telstra. Alice Springs City Council alderman Jane Mure -- who also runs a Web development company in the city -- told ZDNet Australia&nbsp an in-principle agreement for delivery of wireless services existed between Veridas and the council.

Alice Springs' council is poised to sign an agreement with Veridas Communications for city-wide wireless broadband, reducing its dependence for services on what one alderman claims is an "uncooperative" Telstra.

Alice Springs City Council alderman Jane Mure -- who also runs a Web development company in the city -- told ZDNet Australia&nbsp an in-principle agreement for delivery of wireless services existed between Veridas and the council.

Under the agreement, the council would allow Veridas to install wireless base stations on the top of newly-installed lighting towers in a stadium in the city's Traeger Park.

The council is scheduled to meet tonight in order to vote on the proposed five-year agreement. Mure said the wireless coverage "will cover everyone in the actual township". However, residents would need to pay AU$600 to get a special antenna that would be able to provide access to Veridas' specialised virtual private network.

Mure said she knew a lot of people that would sign up for the service, regardless of the initial installation fee.

The alderman said the reason so many people were attracted to wireless broadband was that Telstra had initially been reluctant to roll out ADSL services to the city, and were still causing problems for residents. "Telstra has been really uncooperative just to get ADSL here in the first place," she said. "They said: "Oh, it's just such a small population.""

"Since then," Mure continued, "we're still coming up against problems where Telstra thinks it's not worth it. I'm really glad that we've introduced another element of competition."

According to Mure, Telstra will only connect blocks of houses, not individual residents. "They have to have a certain number," she said. "They do it in blocks. You have to wait until they do the next block of connections and you need to be within 2 kilometres of the exchange. So the people in the wealthy area near the golf course can't get it [ADSL]". The people in that area, said Mure, were currently confined to either ISDN connections, which were more expensive than ADSL, or satellite connections, which suffered a latency lag of 1 second.

But Telstra has another point of view on the allegations. Spokesperson Craig Middleton said that: "80 percent of Alice Springs is served by the Alice Springs exchange which was enabled for ADSL in May 2001 -- among the first in the Northern Territory. On that basis I would reject the suggestion that Telstra has ever 'considered Alice Springs too small for ADSL'."

Middleton continued: "The other 20 percent is served by Larapinta exchange, which as a result of the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme and expressions of interest on the Telstra ADSL Demand Register will have ADSL enablement by the end of this month."

"Some homes of Pine Gap staff are in housing areas where phone services are provided by Remote Integrated Multiplexer (RIM) technology, which is ADSL-incompatible. Telstra has been actively upgrading those affected areas to make ADSL available," he concluded. Telephone exchanges using RIM technology are essentially much smaller than the norm and often housed in metal cabinets on the street.

Mure said Telstra's allegedly problematic relationship with Alice Springs made no sense, due to the city's large base of technically minded people. "We've got such a high disposable income," she said, noting Alice Springs' proximity to the Pine Gap facility and its role as a service centre for remote communities. "It's not the money that's getting in the way, it's the technology."

When they first said, 'register for interest' [for ADSL services], I think they needed to have around 40 people register for ADSL to be brought to Alice Springs, and within an hour or so of that registration process opening up they'd already got the numbers," she said. " When OzEmail first came to Alice Springs [before ADSL], we were actually the busiest node outside of the capital cities."

The only negative point of the agreement according to Mure, is that Veridas put the infrastructure in the wrong place. "I don't know why they didn't put it on top of [neighbouring] Mount Gillen," she said. "If they had, then everyone south of the Gap would be able to get wireless broadband as well." She said those south of the Gap were currently confined to satellite access.