Conroy's OPEL decision gets thumbs down from Liberal's Billson

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Conroy's OPEL decision gets thumbs down from Liberal's Billson

While telecommunications giant Telstra may be ecstatic over the Federal Government’s decision to axe OPEL's plans for a billion dollar regional broadband network, Shadow Communications Minister Bruce Billson believes the people of rural, regional and remote Australia should be deeply concerned about the Government’s decision.

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Previously, the Rudd Government had publicly committed to honouring the contract between the Commonwealth and OPEL consortium as long as it could provide coverage equivalent to 90 percent of under-served premises within its coverage area.

However, analysis performed by Conroy’s ministerial Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), found the OPEL network would cover only 72 percent of identified under-served premises. The Government was also concerned that the OPEL network would create an overbuild with its own planned fibre-to-the-node broadband plan.

“On the basis of DBCDE’s assessment, the Government determined that OPEL’s
Implementation Plan did not satisfy the condition precedent of the funding agreement and as a result the contract has been terminated,” Conroy said in a statement.

However Senator Billson believes Labor’s alternative national broadband plan is little other than a “vague, city-centric fibre broadband network” which provides no detail or explanation on how it will deliver high-speed services to remote Australia.

“The OPEL network was to utilise a combination of technologies, including state-of-the-art WiMAX and fibre backhaul to deliver broadband services to about 900,000 households over 638,000 square kilometres,” he said.

Labor's planned fibre-to-the-node broadband network will result in the duplication of Internet services in and around Australia’s capital cities claimed Billson. He was more concerned that so far there had been no clear indication of how Labor’s broadband plan would deliver Internet services to the people of the bush.

“This lack of clarity and contempt for the people of rural, regional and remote Australia is all the more disturbing in light of the termination of the OPEL contract,” he said. “It comes at a time when Labor is moving to raid the $2 billion Communications Fund to help buy its way out if the ‘broadband muddle’; the fund established by the former government to address telecommunications needs of the bush in perpetuity,” Billson said.

In contrasting comments to Billson, Telstra country wide group managing director, Geoff Booth said it was a commonsense decision as the OPEL plan failed to meet the fundamental requirements of the funding and would have done nothing to increase the availability of broadband access in rural and remote Australia.

"The previous Government's decision was made as a result of poor process and delivered little for regional Australia,” he said. “It's now time to put this mess behind us and move on. Telstra, the Federal Government and the industry as a whole need to look forward and come up with a realistic and achievable holistic solution for getting broadband to all Australians with 21st century technology."
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