Conroy sheds light on network build at ATUG 08

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Conroy sheds light on network build at ATUG 08

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy took stage at the 24th annual ATUG conference today to reiterate and remind the telecommunications industry why the Government would not back down from its fibre-to-the-node national broadband network.

Although competition would remain a cornerstone of the Government’s telecommunications policy, Conroy said the industry could not rely on market forces alone to deliver modern telco services to all Australians, hence the need for the Government’s $4.7 billion backed fibre-network.

“The market will simply not deliver a minimum 12 megabits per second to 98 percent of Australians,” he said. “Sometimes direct intervention is required.”

Conroy also took the opportunity to play down recent speculation that the Government’s plans for a national fibre network would be on standby for five years. Instead, he affirmed that a build partner would be selected by the end of this year and that the network roll out would follow soon after.

“The fibre network will be switched on street by street, suburb by suburb, town by town. It will not be a five year wait,” he claimed.

Shadow Communications Minister Bruce Billson saw things differently when it was his turn to present and took the opportunity to accuse the Government of formulating sound bites rather than sound policy.

“Let’s take the fibre content factor,” Billson said. “In the various and ever-changing fibre to the node, fibre to the home, fibre somewhere, fibre backbone pronouncements, the Government and Senator Conroy have spectacularly failed to make the public policy case for government intervention of the kind and scale they have been musing about.”

He said there was still confusion as to what the Government’s planned fibre network would actually entail.

“Is it fibre to the node? Is it fibre to the home? Is it a fibre backbone? Is it technology specific? Is wireless in or out? The only thing that is clear is that the government seems totally unclear and has little idea about just what it is doing with fibre,” he said.

But although Billson was quick with invective, he did not offer any alternatives to Labor’s plans other than to praise the previous Government’s decision to support OPEL and fund a mix of technologies rather than an all-in-one solution that he sees as fibre-to-the-node.

Although he did not get into the technical details of the build, Conroy did provide information about the build plans for its network when he shed additional light on yesterday’s naming of an expert panel to help advise the Government on submissions for the private build of the network.

He said it would be possible for parties to enter multiple bids and have them accepted when submissions for the network build opened. Conroy added that bids could be made up of national bids that would provide fibre build to the entire nation, or alternatively, modular build bids that would service certain locations such as Tasmania.

“We want to see what the market puts forward through large bids or smaller geographically specific bids,” he said.

Conroy closed his comments with a commitment to ensuring the national fibre network would be open access.

“We are committed to providing genuine open access to the network,” he said. “The new network will be required to facilitate competition through open access. The network operator must provide equivalence of access charges that must allow its users to differentiate their product offerings.”
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