Continuing a dramatic change of course, Telstra is seeking a $600 million government subsidy to roll out what it describes as the biggest “geographically fixed broadband development in Australia”.
Earlier the Big T had indicated it wanted nothing to do with Canberra’s Broadband Connect infrastructure program to bring faster Internet service to remote communities.
Telstra joins a long list of rival carriers, ISPs and other operators looking for a share of the $878 million loot Helen Coonan’s Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts has allotted for Broadband Connect. Some $600 million of this is to be allocated for large-scale infrastructure projects to take high-speed broadband to the regions; additional funding is expected from the private sector and state and territory governments.
Telstra is apparently seeking the whole $600 million – to the exclusion of its rivals. It claims its proposal would deliver broadband for the first time to 250,000 homes and businesses in rural and remote communities, extending fixed broadband coverage from 91 to 95 percent of the population.
The plan embraces some truly remote communities such as Birdsville, Groote Eylandt, Marble Bar and the Tiwi Islands north of Darwin.
Telstra CountryWide Group MD Geoff Booth says the single biggest benefit to the outback community would be secure and affordable video conferencing to enable access to health and education services.
The megabuck bid if granted would see Telstra install ADSL broadband equipment in 1560 exchanges and upgrade 1029 large pair-gain systems that currently block access to ADSL broadband services in some rural and regional areas.
However speeds would be limited to 8Mbps, with Telstra still declining to enable 24Mbps ADSL2+ technology in exchanges where it would be the only company to do so.
It’s certainly not likely to be a walkover for the telco giant. Australian IT quotes senior Nationals MP Paul Neville who heads the Coalition backbench committee on communications and IT. Resenting Telstra’s sustained attacks on the Government and regulators over access to its network, Neville says that if Telstra were to win the $600 million it would “enhance the carrier’s monopoly position”.
The Government has been calling for applications for grants under the infrastructure element of Broadband Connect. The full program allows for spending of $878 million: $600 million of this is for the large-scale infrastructure – and that’s the hunk Telstra wants.
Coonan has said the Government believes a mix of technologies will be needed to deliver the best communications solution. It is also expecting carriers to share their networks with other operators: a concept that isn’t always popular at Telstra.