01/06/2004 - 22:00

Governments’ role in spotlight

01/06/2004 - 22:00


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WITHOUT world class, affordable telecommunications infrastructure the distance between an already remote Western Australia and the rest of the world is even greater.

Governments’ role in spotlight

WITHOUT world class, affordable telecommunications infrastructure the distance between an already remote Western Australia and the rest of the world is even greater.

However, the responsibility of ensuring adequate telecommunications infrastructure remains the responsibility of Federal government and the private sector.

But with State or local governments already responsible for key economic infrastructures such as electricity, water, road and rail services, there are calls for increased involvement at the State and local levels on this issue.

Technology and Industry Advisory Council spokesman Rob Meecham said his organisation had been in favour of increased State government involvement for some time.

“We did a report in 1997 that actually asked the question as to whether WA was actually prepared for telecommunications deregulation,” he said.

“And in that report we argued that the State government had to take an interest in telecommunications policy, because even though the provision was a Federal government responsibility, it was still a highly important aspect of State government policy.”

In a report last year into the development of broadband infrastructure, TIAC said national governments had “severely underestimated the needs of the less populous or remote States”.

TIAC is a State government-funded council made up of representatives from various sectors of the State’s economy designed to provide independent policy advice.

However, Australian Telecommunications Users Group national director Walter Green said the current State Government could be doing a lot more and that the TIAC report indicated “that we aren’t even on the starting blocks”.

“Yes, in terms of constitutional issues, telecommunications is handled by Federal government,” he said. “But nevertheless, there is a lot that we could do in WA’s backyard by the State Government by the local governments and by developers in providing that infrastructure.

“Connecting to the home is less than a third of the problem. Why they didn’t go and put in the appropriate ducting for the fibre to go down under the roads and the rails and all those type of things that have got ideal access for fibre to go around the city.

“So the State Government, by promoting that type of facility, plus in encouraging the local government associations to provide that infrastructure, we can do a lot to solve our problem without resorting to the Federal Government.”

WA Business News executive director Elton Swarts told those at the luncheon that the State Government would “spend $1.4 billion on a train and call that infrastructure” yet had no firm strategy for telecommunications infrastructure.

Department of Industry and Resources assistant director general Lyne Thomas said the State Government was working towards playing a larger role in addressing telecommunications infrastructure, particularly with regards to urban planning.

“We are trying to do a coordination and facilitation role in telecommunications,” Ms Thomas said. “One of the things we are putting forward in our telecommunications policy, which is still in a draft form at this stage, is for the Government to play a bigger part of planning for areas.

“At this stage it is not in the planning requirements to do it but it is more by encouragement. It is certainly in our strategy at this stage and is something we have been talking to and negotiating with people.”

DoIR telecommunications representative Sheryl Siekierka said the State Government recognised that technology had progressed.

“We recognise that, as technology has moved on, it is critical that broadband is at least seriously considered in every new subdivision and development or region,” she said.

“So infrastructure agencies and the Planning Commission have gotten together and have been talking about how they can make that happen in a more coordinated fashion.”

Further, Ms Siekierka said the Telecentre Network was a world leading example of how the State Government had assisted regional and remote communities.

“The Telecentre Network is world leading in getting telecommunications out there as a public access facility,” she said.

“Community and business can see what they like in operation and can come in and use it without having to spend the money to install in their own home or their own business.”

Another State Government initiative is the recently completed Network WA project, which was raised as an example of best practice.

Network WA is designed to deliver broadband via fibre to 57 regional centres and about 308 State Government agencies operating in those regional centers.

While the focus of Network WA is on education and health, there are flow-on effects to other government agencies and the community as a whole.

But Telstra spokesman Peter Fairclough said State governments across the country had “not had a considered policy on telecommunications issues”.

That should not be an impediment to business accessing broadband, however.

“If business wanted a particular amount of bandwidth, for example, they can buy it,” Mr Fairclough said.

“So the solutions are there, but what you’re looking at is policy decisions.

“There are always going to be areas in WA where you have vast distances, small communities, [and it is] not economically viable for any one of the hundred or so telcos to come and deliver the services.

“How can the community and the policy in a political sense guarantee that the services will be delivered to those communities? I think that is one of the biggest challenges.

“When you are living in marketplaces like Perth you have got commercial activity and the critical mass that could warrant the investments.

“We’ve got some examples where we’ve worked with the State Government to deliver DSL to very marginal communities.

“We had $1 million to the old ‘step’ program where we updated nine regional exchanges including places like Meektharra, Exmouth, Leonora, Margaret River.

“Very marginal, and that’s the sort of model that you have to have a look at. It is not economic for any one of the providers to get out and provide that service,” Mr Fairclough said.


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