Nextgen Networks will build all six backhaul links under the Government's $250 million blackspot scheme, connecting 100 regional towns to high-speed broadband in just 18 months (see maps in gallery right).
At an event in Sydney today, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy inked the deal with the Leighton Holdings-owned network builder following a competitive tender.
Conroy said the "priority investment" will put 6,000 kilometres of fibre in the ground, benefiting more than 395,000 people in 100 regional communities.
The number of towns to benefit under the Nextgen proposal was significantly higher than the previous announcements of blackspot locations - Geraldton in Western Australia, Darwin, Emerald and Longreach in Queensland, Broken Hill in NSW, Victor Harbor in South Australia and South West Gippsland in Victoria.
Conroy said the "overall package in terms of where they were able to reach" had put Nextgen in the driver's seat for the project.
"It was their capacity to build beyond the original tender... in reaching 100 regional centres which is obviously more than [the initial] six," Conroy said.
Nextgen indicated that the Geraldton, Victor Harbor and Gippsland links would be completed first. These could be operational in as little as a year.
"The two areas that will take longer are Emerald/Longreach to Darwin and Broken Hill-Mildura-Shepparton," the Nextgen spokesman said.
Conroy said he expected all six links to be completed "in 18 months". He said construction would create 1,000 direct jobs.
Leighton Holdings chief Wal King said the construction efforts would inject money into the regional economy.
But he warned regional areas they could face some disruption during the construction phase.
"Unfortunately when we do build things they have some disruption. We'll work as hard as we can with the communities to [minimise it]," King said.
Preliminary work on the six links was underway and construction would begin shortly, Conroy said.
The Government released a series of maps and indicative route details for the backhaul links at the launch today.
The Darwin-Emerald-Longreach fibre will run over 3,835 kilometres and feature 42 backbone access points along the route. It will cost $125.5 million.
The Broken Hill link will cover 1137 kilometres with 35 backbone access points along the way, at a cost of $70.7 million.
The Geraldton link will run 426 kilometres, include six backbone access points and cost $24.9 million to build.
Victor Harbor's link covers 129 kilometres and nine access points at a cost of $12.6 million, and the South West Gippsland link will run for 215 kilometres, covering 10 access points and costing $15.9 million.