Coalition launches $6.25 billion alternative broadband plan

Fibre backhaul, wireless and ADSL2+ optimisation form key tenets of alternative policy to NBN

A Coalition Government will spend up to $6.25 billion of public and private funding on an alternate broadband policy to the Gillard Government’s $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN).

The funding will directed at providing 97 per cent of Australians with a minimum peak speed of 12 megabits per second (Mbps). The remaining three per cent will have access to satellite access at an as-yet-undisclosed speed.

The broadband plan composes four separate aspects:

  • $2.75 billion of public funding and an additional $750 million private funding on building an open access, optical fibre backhaul network
  • $750 million on “fixed broadband optimisation” with a focus on upgrading telephone exchanges without existing ADSL2+ capabilities
  • $1 billion public grant funding and additional, undisclosed private funding for building a wireless network for rural and regional areas
  • $1 billion on building a metropolitan wireless network focussed on outer metropolitan areas

Opposition communications minister, Tony Smith, said the plan was responsible and affordable.

He also said the open access fibre backhaul would “break the backhaul bottleneck which has been holding back competition and investment in broadband, particularly in rural and regional Australia”.

Confirming some aspects of the policy which has been speculated for weeks, Smith and opposition finance minister, Andrew Robb, launced the plan ahead of an ICT policy debate hosted by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) between Smitth, Labor Senator Stephen Conroy and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam at the National Press Club today.

The policy was initially expected by those close to the party to include revived aspects of the terminated OPEL project as well as a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network.

Both of those aspects have seen revival in some form under the Coalition’s plan. The initial, $1.9 billion OPEL networked announced by Senator Helen Coonan under the Howard Government was targeted at building a WiMAX-based network for rural and regional areas.

The Coalition signalled intentions to capitalise on the existing fibre assets of Optus, Telstra and other companies in building an optical fibre backhaul network, which will see service providers charged with delivering last mile access to homes; the basis of an FTTN network.

Both Smith and Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, have confirmed that a Coalition Government would scrap the NBN, which they have labelled “reckless” and a “white elephant”.

Smith said that, although the party was only promising 12Mbps peak speeds, up to 2.5 million homes already had access to 100Mbps bandwidth through hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) cable networks enabled with DOCSIS 3.0 technology from either Optus or Telstra.

A key tenet of the Coalition’s plan, fixed broadband optimisation, is light on details, but would presumably see the Government provide funding for the installation of additional ADSL2+ DSLAM equipment in those telephone exchanges that don’t currently have access to the service.

According to Telstra, ADSL2+ is currently available at 1883 of the telco’s 2873 DSL-enabled telephone exchanges. The telco only plans to upgrade two additional exchanges to the faster technology, with no updates on those exchanges since May.

Internode has been one of the only continually active service providers in expanding ADSL2+ reach, rolling out nine new DSLAMs in Tasmanian exchanges in the past year.

According to Smith, the optimisation would focus on those who are unable to get “decent” speeds, though did not qualify on what that would entail.

Further detail on other aspects of the Coalition’s broadband plan are yet to see light as well, though Smith told media that the party would commit additional funds to satellite technology to ensure it is “better” than the satellite component of the Labor party’s NBN.

NBN Co has said it will spend $1 billion on launching two new Ka-band satellites to serve those in the three per cent of the Australian population not served by fibre or wireless technologies, with peak speeds of 12Mbps.

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Tags broadbandFederal Election 2010CoalitionNational Broadband Network (NBN)Liberal Partytony smithNational Broadband Commission (NBC)

More about Andrew Corporation (Australia)Australian Computer SocietyAustralian Computer SocietyetworkInternodeOptusTelstra Corporation

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