Election10: How to choose Australia's next broadband network

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Election10: How to choose Australia's next broadband network

We compare the broadband policies of the major parties.

Is the Coalition's alternative plan for networking Australia as backward as commentators suggest? Or is it a more realistic view of what could be achieved by the Federal Government?

Today iTnews takes a step back to compare the communications policies of the ALP and Liberal/National coalition in the lead-up to Australia's election on August 21.

The promise The ALP plan promises 93 percent of Australia's population will be connected to networks capable of delivering up to 100 Mbps, with the remainder getting wireless or satellite connectivity of at least 12 Mbps. Planned for completion in 2018. The Coalition plan promises 97 percent of premises capable of signing up to 'peak' speeds of 12 Mbps by 2016.
Cost to taxpayer: The NBN project is estimated to cost between $28 and $43 billion in total, depending on participation of Telstra. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd indicated the taxpayer would pay around $11 billion of this total cost. Just over $6 billion to the taxpayer, with the rest of the investment being met by the private sector.
Last mile Technologies: Fibre to 93 percent of Australia's population, fixed wireless to four percent, satellite to final three percent. The Coalition will not choose a technology winner. Expects free market to play out in cities between DSL and HFC cable services, and eventually fibre. But will fund $2 billion in grants for fixed wireless services in rural, regional and outer metropolitan areas, $700 million in grants to satellite providers and a $750 million fund for copper network upgrades those homes stuck on RIM technology.
Backhaul: Build of 6,000kms of backhaul network underway under the $250 million 'backbone blackspots' tender won by Nextgen Networks. Focus on uncontested areas in regional Australia. Due for completion September 2011. Plans to spend $2.75 million on a 70,000 km national fibre optic backhaul network by 2017. Most of the spend (and construction) won't start until 2013.
The delivery vehicle: A Government-owned corporation, NBN Co, which currently has close to 300 staff (over 50 contractors) and is led by former Alcatel exec, Mike Quigley. The ALP wants to eventually sell the NBN off at completion; the Greens have stated they will block such a sale. The Coalition intends to shut down NBN Co and its first few build sites in Tasmania, taking 'select' staff from NBN Co, ACMA and the ACCC to form the 'National Broadband Commission' to oversee the provision of broadband grants to the private sector.
Regulatory approach: The ALP Government threatened to withhold 4G mobile spectrum from Telstra unless it agreed to roll its fixed assets into the NBN and/or structurally separate. It also intended to give competition watchdog the ACCC the ability to set wholesale prices and hand out competition notices without prior consultation. This legislation has been stalled in the Senate. Telstra resisted at first, but eventually struck an $11 billion deal to lease its passive network assets to the Government. The Coalition has vowed that it would take a 'hands off' policy and not force Telstra to split. It would instead pass those bills prepared by the Rudd Government that give the ACCC new powers.
Rollout plan: The ALP Government prioritised sites in Tasmania to begin the NBN fibre rollout, and has selected five first-release sites to be connected on the mainland within the next few months and 14 more to be connected by late 2011. These locations tend to favour areas stuck on RIM or low-speed ADSL technology or in marginal electoral seats. The Coalition would ask a newly-established 'National Broadband Commission' to build a 'National Broadband Database' to identify areas of priority. This database would be based on the geospatial modelling already paid for under the ALP's $25 million implementation study. The Coalition said this would be supplemented by 'detailed sampling fieldwork' and promised that the results would be made public.
Approach to new housing estates: The ALP intended to mandate the rollout of fibre into new housing estates, but has failed to win over support from opposition parties or the housing industry. There has also been some confusion as to the role NBN Co would play under such a mandate. Carriers and housing developers alike have complained that the uncertainty is crippling them. The Coalition, which blocked the Greenfields bill put before the parliament, would put off making a decision on whether to mandate fibre in new housing estates for another 12 months.
Approach to the Universal Service Obligation: The ALP Government first threatened to increase Telstra's burden under the USO with threats of $10 million fines, but during its $11 billion financial heads of agreement with the carrier, offered to spread the cost amongst Government and industry via a new entity called USO Co, saving Telstra some $2 billion. The Coalition would keep many of the elements of the ALP's existing reform legislation (prior to its deal with Telstra), but review the plans to ensure they fit with the grants scheme it intends to introduce to encourage private sector builds. It has promised a new regime by mid-2014.

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