A group of telcos led by local broadband
evangelist Paul Budde is pushing ahead with plans to link
its combined infrastructure to form a national network to provide high-speed broadband to regional areas.
Key members of the "Wholesale Industry Group" (WIG), which
last met in Sydney on 26 May, include telcos Nextgen Networks,
Nexium, Vertel, Silk Telecom, Internode and Uecomm, most of which own fibre network infrastructure.
According to participants, the group discussed proposals to utilise its
collective assets to link regional locations up to city
Internet service providers (ISPs) and telcos would buy
"backhaul" services from the WIG and use their own local networks
to sell broadband to consumers and businesses.
This sort of plan is not new to Australia and has been bumping around the traps for some time as carriers try to avoid using Telstra's rural backbone links. Many carriers have claimed Telstra's backhaul services are too expensive to enable bush broadband services to break even.
A similar model was publicly proposed by carrier PIPE Networks at the regional conference of the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) in Canberra early this month. PIPE itself has had some involvement in the WIG.
Bush broadband gold rush
WIG's plan comes in response to the
federal government's March call for consortiums of telcos to present
plans on how the AU$878 million Broadband Connect package could
be used to directly fund large scale network infrastructure in
WIG will seek to utilise some of that funding and has discussed its
intentions with the Department of Communications, Information
Technology and the Arts (DCITA).
The group will also soon enter talks with the Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
In particular, WIG wants to dovetail a map of its combined
infrastructure with DCITA's upcoming "Broadband Blueprint"
document, which controversially aims to coordinate public and private investment in next-generation broadband infrastructure.
The Broadband Blueprint will also contain roles for
participation from local, state and territory governments.
Budde's group will also approach these bodies and has
established liaison committees who will organise meetings with
key people within state governments.
The need for an industry code that would deal with disputes between participants in the
proposed network has also been discussed between WIG and DCITA.
Budde told ZDNet Australia by e-mail today that previous work
done by now-defunct industry group the Telecommunications Access
Forum could be utilised for this purpose.
Such a code would need to be coordinated by the nation's
current self-regulatory body, the Australian Communications
Industry Forum (ACIF), and ratified by the Australian
Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Budde said.
The meeting in May also hosted a presentation from Austar,
which is partnering with carriers Unwired and Soul with the aim
of attracting some of the Broadband Connect funding.
While DCITA has seemed initially receptive to discussions with
WIG, questions remain about whether the structure of the group
would allow it to be viable in the longer term.
ZDNet Australia understands several large carriers initially
involved in participating in the group have gone cold on the idea.