Labor leader Kevin Rudd has claimed that a leaked e-mail proves the government's AU$1 billion plan to banish rural broadband blackspots is in fact a ploy to seduce marginal seats.
Speaking in parliament yesterday, Rudd said that an e-mail from the office of the communications minister dated 31 May revealed the broadband rollout was unfairly weighted towards sensitive electoral areas, calling the latest phase of the Broadband Connect scheme "a poll driven attempt to protect Liberal Party and National Party marginal seats".
Rudd added the e-mail showed the government had asked for electoral maps when discussing the broadband announcement and referred explicitly to the top 40 electorates in the plan, all of which are marginal coalition-held regions. It was decided these areas needed media kits as a priority.
Prime Minister John Howard, however, said the government has been "even-handed" over the rollout, which will see more exchanges enabled for ADSL2+ high speed broadband as well as over 1,300 WiMax base stations installed across the country.
"It is a matter of electoral reality that the great majority of seats in rural and regional Australia are held by the coalition. That is just a matter of electoral arithmetic. If it were a policy that we were applying overwhelmingly to the inner metropolitan area, then the great majority of the beneficiaries would be Labor seats. I cannot help it that at present the great majority of seats in rural and regional Australia are held by Liberal and National Party members," Howard told parliament.
Federal treasurer Peter Costello told ABC this morning that the issue was irrelevant, saying: "It just doesn't matter. It's a nice diversion tactic to say after you are delivering broadband to 150 electorates, and there are 150 in Australia, somehow you did maps that showed that somebody was getting an advantage. But when you look at the program nobody gets an advantage because everyone gets broadband. So it doesn't matter if you've got maps of 10 or 40 or 100, everyone gets it."
The government announced its controversial Broadband Connect plan yesterday, claiming its proposal for a next-generation network will take broadband coverage to 99 percent of the population by 2009.
A joint venture set up by Optus and Elders, named OPEL, will run the network as a structurally separated whole business, providing access both to its parent companies and rival telcos. Retail customers will pay between AU$35 and AU$60 per month for access depending on their speed requirements, the government said. OPEL has promised to invest its own funds of AU$917 million as well as the almost AU$1 billion in government money to construct the next-generations network.