Fibre and WiMax plans will not be derailed: Coonan

Communications Minister Helen Coonan fought back today against attacks on the government's WiMax and fibre to the node plans, saying that opponents had sought to cloud the broadband debate.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan fought back today against attacks on the government's WiMax and fibre-to-the-node plans, saying that opponents had sought to cloud the broadband debate.

Speaking today at the Australian Financial Review Broadband Summit, the Minister defended the government's decision to back WiMax technology and said the controversy plagued FTTN network is a question of "who and when".

Coonan said rural WiMax deployments, such as the AU$1 billion scheme the government has greenlighted for Australia, have already attracted US$300 million of development across the world to date without experiencing the interference issues which opponents have alleged would occur. "My office has not been inundated with complaints about garage doors not working and microwaves ... that don't defrost."

Coonan also hit out at Labor's accusations that government-backed WiMax company OPEL has yet to publish accurate coverage maps for its long range wireless access plan, saying Labor has not produced maps to go with its own broadband plan -- a AU$4.7 billion project to take fibre to the majority of the population. "Labor has taken stone-throwing whilst in glass houses to absurd levels," she said.

Coonan's rhetoric has so far failed to quieten WiMax opponents. Phil Burgess, Telstra's group MD of public policy and communications, said today at the AFR Broadband Summit the technology will be affected "if there are leaves in the way, if there are trees in the way, if there is rain in the way."

The government is pressing ahead on its WiMax network nonetheless and expects 99 percent of the population will be covered by the technology by 2009. "Some of the criticisms are totally astonishing ... [WiMax] is capable of delivery the performance requirements of coverage, speed and services," she said.

Coonan also restated the government's commitment to a FTTN network, saying the deployment is "a question of who and when". The Optus-led G9 consortium has already expressed its interest in putting forward a tender, while Telstra has yet to commit to a similar bid.

While the two heavyweights of the industry are expected to slug it out to build the nation's fibre network, according to industry analyst David Kennedy of Ovum, the FTTN path ahead may be a difficult one for telcos.

"It will take a lot of government guidance on investment ... the risks associated with it [mean] there will be some need for government support or intervention, not necessarily spending," he said.