Conroy calls $250m backhaul tender

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has called for tenders to build the $250 million backhaul telecommunications links, which target six regional centres in all states and territories except Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has called for tenders to build the $250 million backhaul links, which initially target six regional centres across Australia.

The Federal Government's first targets for patching up the nation's so-called blackspots will be: Emerald and Longreach, Queensland; Geraldton, Western Australia; Darwin, Northern Territory; Broken Hill, New South Wales; Victor Harbor, South Australia; and South West Gippsland, Victoria.

The government plans to attack the telecommunications blackspots by constructing backhaul networks or backbone telecommunications links that connect remote and metropolitan areas together. A tender was released today and is available from the government's official tender site, AusTender.

It's not clear yet what other regions will be targeted for backhaul construction, with Conroy today flagging that the government will select more locations throughout the year.

"Subject to the outcome of the first round tender, more locations will be identified later in the year," Conroy said in a statement today.

"It should be clear that National Broadband Network backbone infrastructure investment will not be limited to these individual locations and routes," he added.

Both the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania have been left off today's list; however, Tasmania is expected to see the first leg of the NBN deployed at some stage this month. Neither the Federal or Tasmanian governments have confirmed a specific date yet.

It is hoped that the project will improve broadband services to regional Australia via the planned high-speed backbone links, some of which may run alongside Telstra's — an outcome that Telstra advised against in its submission to the government's consultation paper on the matter.

Despite the apparent delay in today's announcement, which was initially expected in May, Conroy said it still planned to commence construction in September as originally planned.

Shadow Minister for Communications Nick Minchin expressed doubt over Conroy's plan to run a tender and begin construction by September would be met.

Minchin said the OPEL project would have been complete this year if it hadn't been canned by Conroy.

"OPEL was targeted for completion this year and would have seen new fibre backhaul rolled out in under-serviced areas of every state and territory, with a 30 per cent discount on current backhaul pricing across the 15,000-kilometre network," Minchin said in a statement.

"Senator Conroy's decision to cancel OPEL, despite now belatedly pursuing a solution very similar to it, raises serious questions about his judgement and level of commitment to rural and regional Australians," he added.


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