Wireless last mile could bypass Telstra copper network, says Conroy

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Wireless last mile could bypass Telstra copper network, says Conroy

Fibre to the Node proposals using wireless links to reach homes could end the conflict over access to Telstra's copper network, according to Federal Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy.

Senator Conroy has previously confirmed that Fibre to the Home proposals would be welcome among bids to build Australia's national high speed broadband network.

Such proposals would bypass Telstra's copper network, but the expense involved means fibre would be unlikely to reach all homes and businesses.

Using DSL via copper telephone wireless to cover the "last mile" between the node in the street and homes requires negotiating access to Telstra's copper lines, but Conroy has confirmed wireless providers could be granted access to the nodes to bypass the lines to houses.

Speaking at yesterday's Primus Telecom call centre launch in Melbourne, Conroy said National Broadband Network proposals are not obligated to use Telstra's copper network to cover the last mile.

"The key here is to make sure that the nodes are open access. We will, as part of the contract, make sure they are open access. If a wireless provider wants to plug into the nodes they would be able to," said Conroy.

"It's up to people to decide how they want to go ahead, but we're not mandating that you must use Telstra's copper to get to everybody's home. If people want to devise another way then we welcome that."

The possibility of using wireless networks to reach homes arises just weeks after Conroy scrapped plans for a $1 billion WiMAX wireless network to offer broadband connectivity to regional and rural Australians. The OPEL consortium proposal was for a "second rate wireless network," Conroy said.

"You had a fast broadband network in the city under the previous government's plan and you had a second rate wireless network in the bush. No parity of pricing, no parity of services. We're going to deliver minimums of 12 Megabits at uniform prices to 98 per cent of Australians. We're ending the digital divide."

While a wireless last mile would remove the need to negotiate access to Telstra's copper network, the High Court recently ruled that rivals should not have to pay more to use the telco giant's fixed-line telephone network. While Telstra did gain ownership of the country's telephone assets in 1992, the judges ruled that it had bought it under the condition that it give competitors access.

"Telstra took a beating, it was seven-nil and it was much worse than they could have dared suspect," Conroy said. "It pushed them back in a legal sense, it said 'you bought it with a right of access, so do not keep trying to say that people should not have access'."

Bids to build the National Broadband Network are due to close on July 25. Although no bids have been received to date, Conroy confirmed the government expects to begin delivering services by the end of the year.

Conroy dismissed threats by the opposition to use the Senate to block Labor legislation unlocking the $2 billion Communications Fund, money which the government has allocated for the National Broadband Network.
After July 1, Labor will need to the support of the Greens, Family First or South Australian independent Nick Xenophon to pass the legislation in the Senate.

"I say 'make my day'. If they want to oppose delivering fast broadband to regional and rural Australians then 'make my day'," Conroy said. "I will campaign every single day on every street corner in every regional and rural community to say the reason you're not going to get faster broadband is because the Nationals and the Liberals are blocking it in the Senate."

"I campaigned the length and breadth of this country for the last 12 months and people are infuriated. People tell me this is the test for the National Party. They lived through the sale of Telstra but if they get this fast broadband bit wrong, it's the end for the National Party."
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