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When he was in opposition last September, the now Broadband and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy promised ­ in answer to a recent question at an AIIA forum  ­ to dump the Howard Government’s “expert panel”
advising on its $4.7 billion fibre-to-the-node broadband project, and to “start again with someone who knows something about telecommunications”.

Yesterday, having indeed dumped the former Government’s panel, he finally named a new panel to assess proposals for building the national fibre broadband network. And, lo and behold, two of the seven members were drawn from the old lot, on whom he poured such scorn last year.

The two who have served on both panels are Patricia Scott, secretary of his department, who will chair the new panel; and Tony Shaw, former Australian Communications Authority chairman.

 

Other members are Treasury Secretary Ken Henry; Reg Coutts, professor emeritus of communications at Adelaide University; laureate professor Rod Tucker from Melbourne University; and two business folk: John Wylie from investment house Lazard Carnegie Wylie; and Tony Mitchell, chairman of Allphones.

Conroy said the Government will formally call for “innovative and competitive proposals” to rollout the new network and aims to have construction under way by the end of 2008.

Submissions must be lodged by March 30.

Conroy said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will provide advice on pricing and competition issues and deliver a written report to the Panel. The Minister said the new network is expected to:

* Deliver speeds of at least 12 megabits per second;

* Use fibre-to-the-node or fibre-to-the premises architecture;

* Be available to 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses;

* Have uniform wholesale pricing and provide open access to wholesale services on “transparent, equivalent and genuinely pro-competitive terms and conditions”.

Conroy also announced that the Government would provide an additional $95 million for the Australian Broadband Guarantee program, to ensure Australians in remote communities receive “metro-comparable” broadband in
2008-09

Sniffing an opportunity, the G9 ­ a consortium of telcos including AAPT, Internode, iiNet, Macquarie Telecom, Optus, Primus, Soul and TransACT, but not Telstra ­ issued a statement supporting Conroy’s announcement.

Said Macquarie Telecom CEO David Tudehope: “The G9 developed a comprehensive plan for the rollout of a competitive national high-speed broadband network for Australia nine months ago when it lodged a ‘Special Access Undertaking’
with the ACCC. That plan has been publicly available for months and it dovetails nicely into what the Government is announcing.”

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