Critic slams remote telco policy

The $70 million earmarked for regional electronic transaction centres in the federal budget fails to address regional Australia's underlying telecommunications problem, critics claim.

The funds are dependent on the sale of a 16 per cent government stake in Telstra and will establish up to 500 transaction centres over the next five years.

That allows less than $140,000 per centre -- a figure labelled "ludicrous" by regional telecomms specialist Dick Rowe.

Rural users face high telecommunications charges because of antiquated infrastructure and the money allocated to each centre "probably won't even cover the communications costs", Rowe argues.

CEO of telecomms consultancy Rowcom Holdings, Rowe says nothing is being done to solve the lack of access to competitive broadband links that forms the basic problem facing telecommunications users outside the major centres.

The $250 million Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (set up following the sale of the first one-third of Telstra) has had "little or no impact" on development of a national communications infrastructure, Rowe claims.

It is being spent on a number of disparate, scattered projects that exist in isolation from one another.

One technology with the potential to solve the problem of competitive broadband connectivity for regional centres is broadband wireless, also known as Local Multipoint Distribution Services (LMDS).

However, the 15-year right to the entire spectrum in which LMDS operates was bought by AAPT for $66 million in February and AAPT's focus is on broadband wireless networks in capital cities and central business districts rather than outlying areas.

Only 27 of the largest regional centres feature in AAPT's rollout plans and they have been put last on the list. Under AAPT's development schedule, even those regional centres will have to wait until at least 2002 for broadband wireless.

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