Coalition NBN to "optimise" and lease Telstra network

 

Market to decide whether you get 100 Mbps.

The Coalition will wind up the National Broadband Network, sell off its assets and replace it with a mix of fibre backhaul, wireless and "optimisation" of the existing copper network.

It will also not support any proposal to structurally split Telstra.

Opposition communications spokesman Tony Smith unveiled an NBN alternative today that largely relies on Telstra opening up its backhaul to competitors to create a wholesale national ‘open access' fibre network.

The Coalition wants to stimulate telcos like Telstra, Optus and others to install last-mile networks by providing backhaul that it says can service about 97 percent of the Australian population.

"They will risk their capital, not taxpayer's capital," Smith said.

The Coalition will ditch the provision of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and leave it to the market to decide what broadband services Australians will get in the future.

"We are not doing what the Government is doing," Opposition communications minister Tony Smith said.

Unveiling the plan, Smith and Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb faced a hostile reception in Canberra, which would see the Coalition spend closer to $6 billion on a national broadband strategy, compared to the $43 billion committed to the NBN by the ALP Government.

Backhaul lease

The Coalition committed to spend "up to $2.75 billion" creating a backhaul network that it said would enable telecommunications providers to enter areas of Australia where it "was uncommercial to go today".

The commitment would rely on the private sector also stumping up at least $750 million, Robb said.

The backhaul network was anticipated to cover some 60,000 to 70,000 km but may not be ready until at least 2016/17.

The Coalition anticipated that much of it wouldn't need to be built, just leased from its current owner under threat of having their network overbuilt using taxpayer money.

"If fibre can be leased where you have full rights over it and you're able to use it exclusively for open access, that will be done," Robb said.

"If it can't be leased it will be built.

"Telstra owns a significant network and Optus has significant fibre as well. In reality we're talking about Telstra's fibre network [in our plan]."

Interim measures

In the meantime, the Coalition said it would spend "up to $750 million" on what it called "fixed broadband optimisation".

It explained that this would involve committing funding to upgrade Telstra exchanges or otherwise enable faster speeds in areas where the existing copper network couldn't deliver.

"If you live near an exchange - you can get a decent speed, through ADSL or ADSL2+," Smith said.

"But for many Australians this is not possible because of network design or because the exchange hasn't been upgraded."

The optimisation fund will "try and give those people a decent service where we can", he said.

Smith promised that "optimisation" of the DSL network would happen "in the first year" of a Coalition Government, but could not say how many people would benefit.

He said that everyone else would get access to a "wireless" service that offered a "baseline measure... of 12 Mbps peak speeds".

The Coalition said it would provide a $1 billion grant for the wireless network to be installed in rural and regional Australia, but would rely on private sector funding to fill any gaps.

The plan also committed another $1 billion in funding to roll out a metro wireless network "which will principally deal with problems in outer metropolitan Australia."

Smith said those Australians that wanted higher speeds could look to Telstra and Optus' existing hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable broadband networks, although he said they hadn't seen "wide take-up".

It proved, he said, that "people aren't prepared to pay for 100 Mbps at this point in time."

More to come...

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