Australia divided over national broadband plans

The opposition wants a national fibre-to-the-node network and says the government's planned WiMax rollout is a waste of taxpayers' money

The Australian Labor Party communications spokesperson Stephen Conroy has restated the opposition's commitment to a pan-Australian fibre-to-the-node network, while accusing the government of wasting taxpayers' money with a planned WiMax rollout.

Senator Conroy, writing today in The Australian, said that the government's choice of fixed WiMax to supply broadband to bush users was a mistake, adding the technology will not provide the speeds the government has advertised — 20 to 40 times faster than those rural residents currently receive.

"The reality is that the minister is misleading the Australian public. Under the government's broadband plan Australians can expect speeds up to 20 times today's average," Conroy wrote. The opposition communications minister also criticised the government's lack of transparency over the pricing of WiMax services to date.

"That is why Labor has proposed a national broadband plan that extends the superior technology, fibre to the node [FTTN], into rural and regional areas, to offer not just city-comparable pricing but parity of service.

"The fibre-to-the-node service will deliver to 98 percent of Australians guaranteed minimum connection speeds that are 40 times faster than today's average. The remaining two percent will receive a standard of service which, depending on the available technology [fixed line, wireless or satellite], will be as close as possible to that provided by the new network," Conroy wrote.

Under the federal government's vision, FTTN will be used solely in urban areas. Labor's plan for Australia's broadband future would, however, see a fibre network deployed to most of the country.

The specifications for the network were based on a Telstra plan which stated it would be possible to deliver 12Mbps fibre connectivity to 98 percent of the population for AU$4.7bn (£1.9bn), although full details of how the scheme could work have yet to be revealed by the Labor Party.

Conroy also criticised the communications minister Helen Coonan over the tender process for building the network, currently the subject of an upcoming court battle between Telstra and Coonan, accusing the government of "moving the goalposts" during the procedure.

Coonan, however, said the tender was "fair and consistent with both the guidelines, assessment plan and probity requirements".

Conroy concluded by daring his government counterparts to eat their own dog food: "If the government's solution is good enough, we challenge the minister to switch over her office, her home and her department from the current fibre solution to the Opel wireless product."


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