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Rural broadband: Govt wants you to have your say

Despite fears the Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) might be axed, the Rudd government has approved the subsidy for Australia's most remote Internet users for one more year.
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Written by Suzanne Tindal on

Despite fears the Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) might be axed, the Rudd government has approved the subsidy for Australia's most remote Internet users for one more year.

Last month, Opposition communications spokesperson Bruce Billson called on the Labor government to reveal its stance on the ABG — a Howard government initiative which subsidises the cost of Internet access for rural and regional Australians.

"Labor's studied position of silence on this issue is quite worrying. We're already seeing that some service providers are getting less than encouraging responses from the government with regards to their ABG funding," Billson said last month.

However, tender documents for Australia's upcoming fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network, released on Friday, reveal that funding has been extended for the 2008-2009 financial year at a cost of AU$95 million.

The government is also interested in policy and funding initiatives to provide "affordable access" to broadband services to those outside the national broadband network's coverage and is asking for those planning to provide services to the two percent of the population not covered by the FTTN network to make submissions in a parallel process.

"This process will explore long-term options that ensure rural and remote areas of Australia have access to the best available broadband services through future-proof telecommunications infrastructure. This could include enhancing the Australian Broadband Guarantee program to achieve outcomes comparable to the [FTTN network]," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in a statement.

The government is asking for submissions from "industry, public interest groups and other stakeholders" and will help inform a report by the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee, due in August, on ways to improve broadband for bush users. Submissions should be sent to remotebroadband@dbcde.gov.au by 30 June.

The funding guarantee comes after several rural Internet service providers told ZDNet.com.au last month that they believed the Rudd government was unlikely to axe the scheme.

"There's always going to be a need for some kind of subsidised services like this, it'd be a bit silly to cut funding of any kind before the rollout of anything else, which is at least a couple of years away," a spokesperson for regional broadband provider Bordernet said.

ZDNet.com.au's Marcus Browne contributed to this report.

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