Australia’s communications minister Helen Coonan has asked for expressions of interest from telcos looking to make use of the government’s AUD878 million (USD653 million) Broadband Connect fund for providing high speed internet access to rural and outlying regions. Documents are available from the Department of Communications, IT and the Arts (DCITA) and interested parties have until 14 July to formally register their interest.
The development of telecoms services in regional and rural Australia is a high priority for the government, and during 2005 it invested more than AUD1 billion in the provision of infrastructure and services in previously underserved areas under its Connect Australia programme. It has pledged to invest a further AUD1.1 billion in the project, including Broadband Connect’s AUD878 million, to provide all Australians with access to affordable broadband services, AUD113 million to fund broadband networks in outlying areas to improve health, education and other essential services (christened Clever Networks), AUD30 million to improve mobile coverage (Mobile Connect), and AUD90 million to improve vital telecoms services for remote indigenous communities (Backing Indigenous Ability).
A number of major alternative operators are expected to apply for funding under the Broadband Connect programme. In May 2006 alternative operators Austar, Unwired and Soul announced plans to form a joint venture to build an alternative national broadband network. The AUSalliance is looking to secure funding to build an ADSL2+ network covering around 55% of the population, including under-served regional and outer-metro areas. A month earlier Soul was one of seven of Australia’s largest alternative telcos to reveal they were jointly formulating a plan to upgrade the country’s PSTN with fibre-optic technology as an alternative to the next generation network (NGN) strategy of fixed line incumbent Telstra. Optus, Primus, Internode, Macquarie Telecom, PowerTel, Soul and TransACT are all calling for collective investment in an open access NGN. It is not yet known whether the project will seek Broadband Connect funding.