The nation's largest telcos, Telstra and Optus, have welcomed the Australian Labor Party's election promise to facilitate a new national fibre broadband network with up to AU$4.7 billion in funding, and key telecommunications reforms.
Last year, Telstra shelved plans to build such a network after failing to come to an agreement with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about the terms under which rivals would gain access to the proposed "fibre to the node" (FTTN) infrastructure.
But today the ALP pledged AU$4.7 billion and regulatory changes to pave the way for a partnership with the private sector on a FTTN network.
"Telstra welcomes the ALP's announcement today that a [Kevin] Rudd government would take broadband policy leadership away from the unelected regulator and return it to the elected representatives, where it belongs," Phil Burgess, Telstra group managing director of Public Policy and Communication, said in a statement.
"Today, Senator Conroy made clear that the ALP is prepared to do what is necessary to ensure Australia has a globally competitive broadband infrastructure, including removing the regulatory roadblocks to investment in a national FTTN network," Burgess added. "Telstra supports this important national objective."
Burgess said Telstra stood ready to invest in a world-class FTTN network if government regulations provided certainty and enabled the telco to achieve a competitive return on capital invested.
Telstra's closest rival Optus said Labor's strategy took a page from its game plan.
"Australia needs a high bandwidth network -- and strong competition in broadband services," said Optus director Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, Paul Fletcher, in an e-mailed statement. "These two objectives were at the core of the plan announced by Optus and the G9 last year for a new high bandwidth network for Australia."
"It is pleasing to see these objectives affirmed in the broadband policy released by Labor today. Labor has adopted key elements of the G9's plan to give Australia a world-class broadband network while protecting and stimulating competition," Fletcher said.
G9 comprises a group of telcos -- Optus, Telecom New Zealand (AAPT/PowerTel), iiNet, Macquarie Telecom, Internode, Primus, Soul and TransACT -- that plan to build a national fibre broadband network.
Fletcher said the G9 will lodge a special access undertaking with the ACCC by May with respect to its own fibre plan.
Meanwhile, both Optus and Telstra could not resist taking
potshots at each other.
"In Telstra's view, the G9's proposal is fatally compromised on legal, technical and policy grounds," said Telstra's Burgess. "It involves confiscation of Telstra's network assets, which have been bought and paid for by 1.6 million mum and dad investors."
Optus' Fletcher said: "The incumbent telco's plan for broadband, by contrast, is to do nothing unless it gets a cosy deal to protect its lush monopoly profits."