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Australian government retains comms network

Despite reports that ICON would be sold off, the government has decided to retain its secure interdepartmental communications network.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has decided to retain its Intra Government Communications Network (ICON), with the Department of Finance-run secure interdepartmental communications network continuing to provide value for the government, according to a review.

"At this time, a potential sale or lease would not represent value for money for the government," Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann said in a statement on Friday.

The government in April appointed analyst KPMG and law firm King & Wood Mallesons to lead its scoping study on whether to sell ICON, after former Treasurer Joe Hockey allocated funding in the December mid-year budget to look into the most efficient way to sell the network.

The results of the scoping study reaffirmed the network's value to the government, according to Cormann.

"The scoping study found that ICON provides significant value to the government as a strategic asset, and is highly valued by government agencies for its low-cost and high-volume bandwidth, which facilitate the provision of secure, cost-effective telecommunications services," the finance minister said.

"ICON could also potentially play a central role in enabling broader whole-of-government technology solutions in the future, such as cloud-based services."

ICON links 97 government agencies in Canberra via 160,000 kilometres of fibre. The network has 516 points of presence, 3,931 links, and 2,040 pits, with the government spending around AU$5 million per year on new connections, and AU$3 million in annual uptake.

With 34 agencies already using encryption over ICON, the others will soon follow, the government said.

Other recommendations made by the scoping study included introducing a strategy for implementing ICON within a whole-of-government IT framework; establishing clearly defined SLAs; assessing the future funding of ICON; and enhancing arrangements for due diligence concerns, including carrier licence exemption, third party use of ICON, property access rights, and title issues.

"The government has commenced a program of work to implement these recommendations," said Cormann.

During Senate Estimates in February, Australian government chief technology officer John Sheridan said the network is important for ensuring "secure communications" for government departments and agencies.

"It is physically rated and protected, and agencies can use that to connect rather than use commercially provided cables. It is about a tenth of the cost of commercial cable," he said.

"These are actually what we call dark fibre. We just provide the link. They then run over whatever communications they want to. It might be connecting two datacentres. It might be connecting their own networks internally. We are just providing the fibre for them."

Approximately 30 Department of Finance staff members work on the network, with departments paying for new connections as well as a fee based on how many connections they have.

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