Howard finally gets on the broadband wagon

The government is announcing/has announced partners Optus and Elders have won funding for establishing broadband access – Broadband for everyone ‘by June 2009’.

Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan says 99 per cent of Australians will have access to fast affordable broadband internet by June 2009.

Senator Coonan announced Opel, a joint venture between Optus and Elders, had been awarded $958 million from the Broadband Connect Infrastructure Program to build a wireless internet network in regional Australia.

In addition, Opel will contribute $900 million of its own funds to the network.

First, that name is the work of just plain laziness. But, second, did the Treasurer not recently go nuts on Labor for saying they’d spend money on this? This involves AUD958m? Go figure.

Note the ‘regional’ bit. In fact, the SMH reports,

Senator Coonan also confirmed an expert taskforce of eight people would be set up to assess rival proposals for a fibre-optic network in the major cities.

Wayne Swan, Labor’s shadow minister for the Treasury, referred to Howard’s portending creation of a ‘digital underclass’ – i.e. one version of high-speed internet access for the bush, one for the cities. I find the fact that we’ll likely have different companies doing each a particularly bad sign, also.

Oddly, it seems not everyone even knew about the public money on offer:

Opposition communications spokesman Stephen Conroy said yesterday he had asked the auditor-general, Ian McPhee, to investigate the tender process for the Broadband Connect program.

He said not all parties involved in the tender process were aware that they could apply for more than $600 million in funding.

“Given the limited period allowed for the preparation of bids in the Broadband Connect tender, this delay in providing equal information to all participants significantly disadvantaged some bidders,” he said.

I must confess, I’m kind of glad those companies missed out – I’d prefer a little more initiative on the part of the providers of rural/regional FTTN networks.

Interestingly (I mean, over and above Howard’s electioneering approach to something as critical for Australia’s long-term economic growth and international competitiveness), Telstra is not only missing out on the regional/rural market, but facing heavy-enough involvement by the ACCC if they do emerge with the urban end of the government’s broadband concessions.

It is understood an ACCC official will be included on the panel. There will also be officials from Treasury, the Department of Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

New Zealand isn’t happy about it, either.

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