In mid-2003 the government presented an extensive response to the Estens and Broadband Advisory Group (BAG) reports. The Estens Report recommended government policies to address the telecoms infrastructure problems in regional Australia and the BAG report recommended initiative that would stimulate the rollout of broadband. I have put these developments into perspective, with reference also to analyses that deal more comprehensively with the key issues. They include broadband demand aggregation, future proofing of the network and Telstra’s dominance in the telecoms/cable TV infrastructure market. At the end of the report is an overview of the various new government policies.
The Federal Government accepted all the 39 recommendations of the Inquiry and will invest $181 million with the aim of ensuring all Australians have access to adequate telecom services, enhance a range of existing services, and ensure that regional Australia continues to share equitably in the benefits of future technologies.
The response will be delivered in full regardless of any change in the future ownership of Telstra.
The government’s response does address the future-proofing of telecoms in regional and rural areas. And it is good to see that it is endorsing the vision and the broad strategies recommended in the BAG report. The National Broadband Strategy Implementation Group (NBSIG) and the network of broadband demand aggregation brokers are both excellent initiatives.
However, although these implementations are distinct from the privatisation issue, they will still have to be judged in that light. The money allocated to broadband infrastructure factors is totally inadequate. The $23.7 million over four years for a Coordinated Communications Infrastructure Fund (CCIF) has to be judged against the $5billion, approximately, that will be required over the next decade to upgrade the current rural and regional telephone network to a proper broadband network.
A full Australia-wide network is estimated at $15 billion. The $5 billion investment reflects funds that are needed in economically unviable regions – areas that will not be funded by a privatised Telstra (or any other commercial organisation for that matter) without significant government funding. While this issue could be addressed over time, with privatisation just around the corner it is essential that it be addressed quickly, and that a plan of action be drawn up outlining how such a large-scale regional infrastructure investment will be funded under a privatised Telstra.
For a full analysis and a full overview of the government initiatives see separate report: Australia – Regulations – Developments in 2003.
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