The federal government is considering using
some of its AU$3 billion Connect Australia package to aid in the
development of a broadband access network in regional
|Senator Helen Coonan|
Announcing the move at the annual conference of the Australian
Telecommunications Users Group
in Sydney this morning,
Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan said it could
represent a departure from the per-customer funding previously
allocated under the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme
which concluded in December.
Coonan said she was looking at ways in which the AU$878
million Broadband Connect program, which is HiBIS' successor and
allocated from the Connect Australia funds, could evolve from the
"I am considering setting aside a large part of the funding to
stimulate the development of a competitive wholesale access
network in regional Australia that will provide a broad basis for
ongoing infrastructure-based competition in regional Australia,"
"Government funding support for such infrastructure would
contain some basic requirements, including guaranteed wholesale
access for service providers at fair competitive prices, and a
key focus on providing full access where regional terrestial
coverage is not complete."
She noted any new network would not replicate the exact
coverage or lack thereof of Telstra's existing rural fixed
Coonan said she expected speeds would far exceed based ADSL
speeds of 256Kbps.
A consortium approach composed of multiple parties is likely
to find favour with the minister.
"Already we have seen some partnering on the rollout of next
generation infrastructure," she said, referring to partnerships
between Optus and Vodafone, Telstra and Hutchison in rolling out
third-generation (3G) mobile networks.
"Elsewhere, Soul Converged Communications has partnered with
Country Energy to lay fibre as part of its whole of government
broadband contract in NSW," she said.
The minister requested expressions of interest before the
final call for applications under the expanded Broadband Connect
scheme would be made.
"This will be a call for industry to express its willingness
to be part of this vision, and to put forward well developed
ideas about what could be achieved with this funding," she
She encouraged industry to look at the Connect Australia
package as a broad package rather than separate programs, as
there were "obvious synergies" between the different packages of
The Connect Australia funds are divided up into four packages
dealing with mobile services, new regional clever networks,
broadband and indigenous communications.
Senator Coonan said she would announce further details on
Connect Australia in coming months and have finalised guidelines
out "well and truly before 1 July 2006".
In conjunction with the new Broadband Connect guidelines,
Senator Coonan also released the final guidelines for the AU$50
million metropolitan aspect of Broadband Connect.
A provisional Metro Broadband Connect register has started
operating from today to enable customers to identify service
providers and indicate their interest in receiving a subsidised
The program is aimed at fixing "blackspots" in city areas
where broadband is not available.
The Australian Labor Party's communications spokesperson
Senator Stephen Conroy spoke immediately after Senator Coonan at
the conference, but did not address her comments on how the Connect
Australia funding would be used.
The complete text of Senator Coonan's speech this morning can be found at her department's Web site here.