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Industry lukewarm on broadband plan

THE recently launched joint State and Federal government National Broadband Strategy has received a lukewarm reception from industry observers.

The Federal Government has allocated $142.8 million towards the strategy, which is designed to improve access to affordable broadband services.

Implementation of parts of the strategy is currently under way in WA and other States and Territories, with the exception of Victoria.

The strategy is designed to drive Australia to be a world leader in the availability and effective use of broadband. It aims to deliver enhanced outcomes in health, education, community, commerce and government.

However, the strategy is mostly comprised of principles and objectives and does not contain a long-term plan to develop telecommunications infrastructure in Australia, which is widely recognised as being below comparable world standards.

The strategy was launched at last week’s Australian Telecommunications Users Group annual conference in Sydney.

Communications and IT minister Daryl Williams said the strategy would “seek to improve the price and increase the availability of broadband services in regional, rural and remote Australia, with a particular focus on consumers, SMEs and the health and education sectors”.

However, IT&T analyst Paul Budde said the strategy was fundamentally flawed.

He said it failed to put in place a long-term plan, did not allocate enough funds and would lead to investment in “old-fashioned” technologies.

“I’m not excited about it,” he said. “It’s far too broad brush and far too open-ended.

“My estimate is that if you want to do something to [improve broadband access in] rural and regional Australia, you will need in the vicinity of $5 billion over time.

 “We are already three or four years behind the rest of the world.

“The committee in charge of the strategy are managing a number of funds and a lot of the money is allocated to old-fashioned networks.”

Mr Budde said a large proportion of the funds allocated were likely to go to Telstra, as the operator of the telecommunications network in Australia, but conceded that parts of the strategy would benefit regional Australia.

“Between 25 and 35 per cent [of the funds allocated] will be used for excellent projects. They [the projects] are outside the Telstra network and there is the potential to do some really excellent projects,” he said.

For example, communities in regional, rural and remote WA would benefit through the State Government’s telecentre network

However, Mr Budde praised the WA Government for contributing $50 million to develop and improve regional telecommunicatons in education and health.

This was supplemented by $8 million from the Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and The Arts.

The $50 million will be provided over eight years from various government agencies and is expected to deliver increased Internet bandwidth to government health and education sites in about 19 regional centres.

“What the Federal Government doesn’t have, the State Government in WA does,” Mr Budde said.

ATUG spokesman WA, Walter Green, said that, while the strategy was a step in the right direction, it didn’t go far enough.

“My concern right now is that we need to be doing more,” he said.

“We now need to see the funding and put it into practise.

“Broadband or telecommunications is as important as electricity or water and it’s an area where State governments have control.”

The National Broadband Strategy will provide: $107.8 million to the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme (HiBIS), which will provide subsidies to service providers; $23.7 million for the Coordinated Communications Infrastructure Fund (CCIF) to build on broadband infrastructure developments in key public sector areas, such as health and education; $8.3 million towards a demand aggregation broker program to consolidate demand for broadband services at a regional and sectoral level to attract additional infrastructure and investment; and $2.9 million over four years for a national coordination mechanism, the National Broad-band Strategy Implementation Group.

 

“I’m not excited about it. It’s far too broad brush and far too open-ended. We are already three or four years behind the rest of the world.”

-         Paul Budde

 

 

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