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PM launches Oz network three-year 3.5m premises rollout

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The first large-scale rollout of Australia’s National Broadband Network has been announced, with the government and NBN Co announcing that 3.5 million premises (including homes, businesses, schools and hospitals) are to receive their connections by 2015.

In a press conference only partly sidetracked by the federal government’s exclusion of Huawei from NBN work, prime minister Julia Gillard, communications minister Stephen Conroy, and NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley announced a list of 1,500 communities on the three-year rollout list.

The PM also promised that annual rollout updates would continue expanding the rollout plan – so long as the ALP retains government at the next federal election, with the warning that a change of government would see the end of the project.

The full list of communities has been published here by NBN Co. The rollout will cover over a million premises in NSW, 700,000 in Victoria, 680,000 in Queensland, 430,000 in Western Australia, 330,000 in South Australia, 65,000 in the Northern Territory, and over 200,000 in Tasmania.

Senator Conroy, perhaps in an attempt to forestall an inevitable line of attack, noted that the rollout covers 67 ALP-held electorates, 61 held by the Coalition, and six held by cross-bench MPs.

“If we don’t embrace the future,” the prime minister stated, “our old network will choke off economic possibilities for the future.”

She added that as the rollout ramps up, it’s expected to need around 16,000 people to maintain the pace of the rollout.

Both the prime minister and senator Conroy declined to canvass the events surrounding the exclusion of Huawei from NBN tendering, reiterating that the decision was made “on advice” from relevant agencies, and was a decision made “in the national interest” for a project of “national significance”.

Prime minister Gillard added that the exclusion of Huawei from NBN contracts did not, in the government’s opinion, breach any international trade laws.

“I note that China itself takes a view about its own telecommunications system and rollout … it’s got a special approach to whether or not there should be foreign investment in that.”

Senator Conroy also took the opportunity to accuse the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of “serious factual errors” in its latest assessment of broadband plans around the world, in which the EIU repeated last years complaint that the Australian plan is the “most expensive in the world” and an example of “extreme government intervention”.

Conroy added that the EIU marks projects down on the basis of government funding; he said it misquotes the number of homes served; and complaint that the EIU “gets it wrong … over and over again”.

Perhaps stung by criticisms of the egregious howlers that populated last year’s report, the EIU hasn’t been as lavish with media information this year, leaving Senator Conroy to express his irritation at the report, but with media unable – unless they have access to nearly $3,000 to buy a copy – to assess the report’s accuracy for themselves. ®

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