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Senate vote highlights need for practical telecommunications solutions in the bush


Last night’s Senate vote on the transfer of the Communications Fund monies for the National Broadband Network (NBN) highlights the urgent need for practical telecommunications in rural and remote areas of Australia.

Telstra’s Group Managing Director Telstra Country Wide, Geoff Booth, said practical solutions already existed, most recently demonstrated with the completed roll-out of Telstra’s 800km optical fibre transmission link between Jabiru and Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory.

“Optical fibre transmission is the critical infrastructure that is required to help rural and remote areas share the benefits of modern and fast broadband telecommunications,” Mr Booth said.

“Through a partnership with the NT Government, Rio Tinto Alcan and the Northern Land Council, Telstra will be able to bring broadband speeds to remote Indigenous communities that are on a par with our largest capital cities,” he said.

"The way forward is clear. Government support is required to make it economical to drive out critical, open access transmission links into rural and remote areas. Customer-based subsidies can then be used to encourage a variety of last mile’ solutions into homes and businesses in a competitive way.

"The recent Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee makes reference to this. While the report could best be described as containing the good, the bad and the ugly, the positive sentiment was a desire to provide fibre in regional and remote communities. In order for this to happen, government and industry financial support is vital, particularly in regional areas in the Northern Territory, Far North Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and other remote locations.

“The Government has $400 million at its disposal to help telecommunications in rural and regional areas. This would be the most logical place to start,” Mr Booth said.

Telstra’s Group Managing Director Public Policy and Communications, David Quilty, said a Fibre-to-the-Node National Broadband Network will not cover 100 per cent of the population, so it is critical to find the very best alternatives that provide practical, lasting solutions for rural and remote communities.

“It must be horses for courses. In some communities, wireless solutions with optical fibre transmission will be the most cost-effective solution. In very remote areas, satellite may be the only viable solution,” Mr Quilty said.

“We also must understand what not to do. Subsidising duplicate fibre transmission links where it is not economical to have one of these links is a road to nowhere,” he said.

“Both sides of politics recognise that the Universal Service Obligation is grossly underfunded and inefficient, discouraging investment in regional Australia.”

Mr Booth said rural and remote communities should not have to wait for the NBN. The solutions are available now and Government programs have been established. Everyone just needs to get on with the job.

“Telstra has a proposal now before Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for the Australian Broadband Guarantee program to offer subsidised access to fixed wireless broadband using its world-leading Next G network combined with high-grade Yagi antennas,” Mr Booth said.

“This solution would use Australia’s largest and fastest national wireless broadband network, which covers 99 per cent of the population, to provide quality broadband at prices that are comparable to ADSL broadband in the cities today,” he said.

"As soon as we get the go-ahead we are ready to roll out this tremendous product to people in rural and remote areas who are crying out for better broadband.

“Regional Australia won’t have to wait for the NBN. If Telstra gets the necessary approvals, regional Australia can start getting this service in a matter of weeks.”


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