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Councils question NBN deployment issues

Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy yesterday said local councils were knocking down his door to get the NBN first, but president of the Australian Local Government Association says there were questions over how it is deployed and local council autonomy.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on

Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy yesterday said local councils were knocking down his door to get the NBN first, but president of the Australian Local Government Association says there were questions over how it is deployed and local council autonomy.

"The tier of government that has got this the best over the past six years ... is local government. They are queued up, knocking down my door. They are desperate for us to roll out the network. They all want me to make them first," said Conroy yesterday.

"Local government truly get it," he went on, adding that based on the response to a recent speech he delivered to over 600 local council employees, "they are very fired up."

But there are several reasons why local councils are fired up, according to Geoff Lake, president Australian Local Government Association.

Lake recently told ZDNet.com.au there was "significant interest from local councils and communities" but that it was in "deployment issues associated with NBN".

"At this stage we are optimistic and there are a multitude of logistical issues that will need to be navigated," Lake said. "We need to ensure [these] are dealt with in an appropriate way that will respect local council autonomy."

A key question behind the issue of autonomy was whether the network was deployed overhead or underfoot. It has been an issue with the potential to turn into a protracted battle as local councils seek to meet preferences of the communities each represents.

"We understand that, from an economic perspective, deploying the cable underfoot may not be possible or practical in all areas," said Lake. "We're keen as a sector to work with the minister — council by council — the best deployment options, given localised community interests."

At the speech, Conroy had said where it was deployed overhead it would be as "unobtrusive as possible". But no matter how unobtrusive those cables turn out to be, when asked what deployment councils would prefer, Lake said: "There is a significant preference for underground where possible due to lack of visual disruption to urban environment."

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