Coonan: Broadband isn't a locked battle between Telstra and G9

Private sector has to take the lead

The Federal ICT Minister Helen Coonan has called on anyone "dying to make an investment in telecommunications" to come forward, as Australia's future broadband network is not a locked battle between Telstra and the Optus-led G9 consortium.

Coonan said the rollout of a national Fibre-to-the-node network (FTTN) must be led by the private sector, not government, noting that technology and pricing will be dictated by consumer adoption.

Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) luncheon in Sydney Wednesday, Coonan was tight-lipped about the government's plans for a high speed broadband network but said "there will be an announcement shortly."

"Technology and pricing will be determined by consumers because they won't buy what they can't afford," Coonan said.

"Regulation for the FTTN is a challenge because business needs ROI for its shareholders; if access is too [cheap] there is no incentive for investment, however if it is too high, there will be no take-up."

Coonan lashed-out at suggestions that a FTTN network in place of a Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure would be obsolete before it is finished, claiming networks such as Alberta's SuperNet and Singapores' FTTH network are impractical for Australia.

"Nowhere has had success with a FFTH network and it is something business cannot risk shareholder funds on. It would take a very brave person to say they have technical answers [for FFTN/FTTH] in five years," she added.

Coonan said the Alberta model doesn't suit Australia because it needs government and business buy-in and that would take a long time to introduce.

She said $60 million has been invested into global research into digital technology through the Advanced Networks plan.

However, the Minister said FTTN rural prices will be equivalent to metropolitan areas under an open access plan, and suggested VDSL (Very High Speed DSL) from FTTN may be the best model for metropolitan areas.

Coonan fell-back on current figures claiming 97 percent of Australians can access two to eight megabit broadband connections, while two percent of metropolitan residents enjoy access to ADSL 2+, which she attributes to some $500 million in subsidies in 2004 and a further 1.3 million people signing to broadband during this same period.

She reminded those in attendance at the luncheon, that the current process is not a locked battle between the Optus led G9 consortium and Telstra.

Telstra proposed a $4 billion FTTN network last year, but scrapped the plan after running into pricing and regulatory issues, and has not revealed pricing for a new system.

Optus-led consortium G9 has proposed a $3.6 billion FFTN network offering broadband to Australia's five largest capital cities for less than $50 a month.

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