Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced that the National Broadband Network (NBN) project, one of the current government’s key policies in the country’s upcoming elections, will now see the under-construction fibre network reach 93% of the country’s population, up from the previous 90% target, according to the Wall Street Journal. The infrastructure has however been criticised by political opposition, which has argued that it is too expensive and threatens to create a new nationalised telecoms monopoly. Shadow telecommunications minister Tony Smith has said that the Liberal Party will put forward an alternative to the NBN during the election campaign, which he claimed would offer ‘better, reliable and affordable broadband’, noting: ‘It will ensure those in under-served broadband areas receive a better service as quickly as possible and promote the broader commercial rollout of better broadband more generally. There will be no misuse of taxpayers’ money.’
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, last month the country’s fixed line incumbent Telstra signed a preliminary AUD11 billion (USD9.59 billion) agreement to transfer customers from its copper network to the NBN. The deal between the telco and the state will also see Telstra grant NBN Co, the public-private company set up to oversee the NBN project, access to its network, while in return it is understood that it will be allowed to retain ownership of its cable network and will be permitted to bid for wireless spectrum in the future. Under the terms of the deal Telstra will receive AUD9 billion over several years as compensation for NBN Co utilising its infrastructure and to offset the loss of income from future fixed line customers, while a further AUD2 billion of government funding will be used to create a new company, USO Co, which will oversee Telstra’s Universal Service Obligations, retrain the telco’s staff and make NBN Co a wholesale supplier of fibre for new housing developments from 1 January 2011.