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Rural ISPs: Labor won't cut bush broadband funding

After Bruce Billson, Opposition spokesperson for Communications, claimed yesterday that the federal government is planning on cutting subsidies to rural and regional broadband providers, a number of industry sources have cast doubt on whether the policy axe has been raised over the Australian Broadband Guarantee.
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Written by Marcus Browne on

After Bruce Billson, Opposition spokesperson for Communications, claimed yesterday that the federal government is planning on cutting subsidies to rural and regional broadband providers, a number of industry sources have cast doubt on whether the policy axe has been raised over the Australian Broadband Guarantee.

With current arrangements set by the previous government's Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) policy due to expire at the end of July, the Victorian Liberal MP yesterday sounded the alarm over the federal Labor government's lack of assurances that rural broadband subsidy provisions would continue.

Shadow Communications Minister, Bruce Billson
Credit: Australian Parliament

"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," said Billson yesterday.

"The specific lack of reassurances from Senator Conroy on the future of this policy has been very strange indeed," said the Opposition communications spokesperson.

However, the parliamentarian's claims have today been refuted by rural broadband providers who believe the government intends to keep subsidising high-speed access in the bush, but is most likely tailoring its own new policy to integrate with its plans for a national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) rollout.

"It's fair to assume that there's always going to be some people who can't get that type of [FTTN] service," said a spokesperson for regional broadband provider Bordernet. "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."

The spokesperson said that while the company had around 12,000 customers connected under the existing program, Bordernet had not applied for any further ABG funding under the last round of subsidies, as the company believes funding will most likely run out before its July expiry period and, as a result, it is all the more likely the government is simply preparing its own similar policy.

"We as a company think that if this policy doesn't continue it would be reasonably fair to assume that it will come out in another form," said a spokesperson for rural satellite broadband provider, Newsat.

While the company is still waiting to hear if its final round ABG funding application had been approved, the spokesperson said that Billson's point about not having a new policy set out was "simply stating the facts" and said of the ABG: "We believe we've had a good hearing from the department so far and we're just waiting on them for confirmation at this point."

The Internet Industry Association has also weighed into the debate, with its CEO, Peter Coroneos, telling ZDNet.com.au today: "It's a new government, so what policies of the previous government it maintains or axes is completely up to them, but having said that, Stephen Conroy has guaranteed the delivery of broadband to all Australians by 2010, and that presumably includes ongoing support in regional Australia."

"Until we see evidence to the contrary we're taking the government's word as is," he said.

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