While Optus and Telstra have both slammed Australia's proposed NBN legislation, fearing it could allow NBN Co to sell retail services, an independent review set up by the Howard Government this week gave a thumbs up to the National Broadband Network for regional Australia.
The Regional Telecommunications Independent Review (RTIR), established in 2005 as part of the then Howard Government's "="" class="c-regularLink" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">future-proofing telecommunications Bill, has said it was "extremely heartened" by the government's $250 million regional backhaul blackspots program currently underway as part of the NBN.
"The Committee was extremely heartened by the government's December 2009 $250 million investment in competitive regional backhaul. Enhancing backbone competition will encourage broadband and telephony providers to improve the range, quality and prices of the services they offer in regional areas," it said in its submission to the Liberal-led Senate Select Committee on the NBN.
The committee's members include the National Farmers Federation's Mark Needam, Nationals Senator Bruce Scott, as well as Boston Consulting Group consultant and Rural Finance Corporation board member Alexandra Gartmenn.
The backhaul program is arguably the only major piece of the NBN on the mainland to have commenced construction. Leighton subsidiary, Nextgen Networks, has started the roll-out of the link between Darwin and Townsville.
Managing director of Nextgen, Phil Sykes, reported to ZDNet.com.au recently that it had completed 400 kilometres of the build. It needs to complete a further 5000 kilometres by mid-2011. The network has been welcomed by mobile network providers and internet service providers as a key piece in delivering internet access to remote regions that have been inaccessible due to Telstra's backhaul charges in non-competitive regions.
The Liberal Party's telecommunications spokesperson Tony Smith recently delivered his strongest opposition to the NBN to date, hinting that it would ditch the project in favour of a more targeted approach — if it was elected.
At a recent conference Smith has lamented the loss to regional Australia caused by the current government's decision to ditch the OPEL project, which he said would have delivered broadband to regional Australia already if it were kept alive.
But the RTIR appeared to be happy with the NBN and reckoned the project had the capacity to transform rural communities and economies.
"The availability of backhaul and high speed broadband services will see regional, rural and remote communities provided with greater opportunity to participate in Australia's social, cultural and economic life," committee member William Glasson wrote. "While there is further work to be done, the Committee believes the NBN will play an important role in supporting this outcome."