The controversial Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) program was officially launched in its entirety by National ICT Minister Helen Coonan.
The $162.5 million plan offers incentive payments to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to supply higher bandwidth services in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia at prices comparable to those available in metropolitan areas.
Coonan launched the ABG on the back of a growing list of 33 ISPs, including Cirrus Communications, Telstra and Optus, who have registered to participate in the program.
"A range of ISPs have registered and are now participating in the program and I expect more registrations over the coming weeks," Coonan said.
"We have required all approved providers to meet a very high standard of financial viability and required that they are not solely dependent upon ongoing Government funding.
"The Australian Broadband Guarantee has been designed to complement the roll-out of services under the new OPEL Network."
The plan is part of the government's $1.9 billion Australia Connected initiative, which will see ADSL2+ capabilities installed in 426 WiMax exchanges across regional and outer-metropolitan areas, and 15,000 kilometres of fibre optic backhaul rolled out to link rural and city networks and broaden links across the Bass Strait.
The initiative received $958 million from the $1.85 billion Broadband Connect program and more than $900 million from OPEL, a joint venture between Optus and rural service provider Elders, which has been tasked with deploying the infrastructure by 2009.
The ABG will fill holes in the OPEL project by providing satellite broadband to regions excluded from coverage areas.
Coonan said ISPs will have until September 30 this year to register for the program.
More than 1.5 million households and small businesses have acquired broadband connections since 2004.