Bush broadband gets AU$600m boost

The federal government today put AU$600 million on the table to fund bush broadband projects as it launched the next phase of its Broadband Connect program. Telcos and others can apply for the money under guidelines released today, with Communications Minister Helen Coonan having previously stated her preference for a consortium-based approach to large infrastructure investment.

The federal government today put AU$600 million on the table to fund bush broadband projects as it launched the next phase of its Broadband Connect program.

Telcos and others can apply for the money under guidelines released today, with Communications Minister Helen Coonan having previously stated her preference for a consortium-based approach to large infrastructure investment.

The allocation is part of the larger AU$1.1 billion Connect Australia package which also includes, for example, funding to improve indigenous communications and rural mobile phone coverage.

A statement issued today by Coonan and Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile did not make clear what the remaining AU$278 million of the Broadband Connect funds would be used for.

Today's announcement is a significant one for the Australian telecommunications sector as it represents a shift in the way the government allocates funding for bush broadband.

Previously money had been allocated to telcos based on the needs of individual customers. However under this second phase of Broadband Connect, it will be handed out in bulk for network investments.

That opportunity has already attracted significant interest from telcos over the last few months since Coonan broached the idea, with several consortiums of players forming to apply for the cash.

In the statement, Coonan said an earlier expressions of interest (EOI) process for the funding had been successful.

"There was a strong and enthusiastic response. The overwhelming majority of the 69 responses strongly supported the government's proposed alternative infrastructure-based approach outlined in the EOI," the senator said.

"Several respondents are interested in developing proposals for major national or regional infrastructure projects that would result in well-developed, end-to-end solutions of significant scale."

The existing per-customer allocation of the funds will continue during this financial year while the second phase of Broadband Connect was developed, the statement said.

"Appropriate transitional arrangements will be put in place."

Applications for the funding will close on 30 November.