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Australia's coalition launches new broadband policy

Fibre to the premises unlikely for most in cheaper, sooner, plan

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In Sydney's Fox Sports broadcast facility, a building supporting multi-gigabit connectivity, immediately following a demonstration of 3D television capabilities, and on the same day that the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced year-on-year Australian download growth of more than 63 percent, Australia's opposition announced a 25 Mbps fibre-to-the-node policy that will likely become the future for Australian telecommunications.

And with that announcement, the broadband election battle was finally joined in earnest, with as much detail as the debate is likely to receive.

So here's what we know: presuming Australia's opposition wins the nation's September election, it will abandon the current government's plan of installing an optical fibre to 93 per cent of permises down under by the year 2021. In its stead, the opposition plans to fund fibre-to-the-node rollout to “thousands” of phone exchange areas by 2016, and deliver a minimum 25 Mbps to “all” Australians, upgraded to a minimum of 50 Mbps by 2019. xDSL has been fingered as the technology to do the job , with FTTP a user pays option for those beyond greenfield sites who'll all get fibre because it's about the same price to run fibre as coppper. Locations where copper connections are too degraded to sustain FTTN at the desired bitrates will receive a fibrous upgrade.

While its precise targets for FTTN installation by 2016 aren't outlined, the opposition says its rollout will eventually reach nearly nine million connections by 2019, along with 2.8 million FTTP services (completed NBN plus greenfields rollouts), 572,000 fixed wireless households for spots too hard to wire and 372,000 satellite connections for those in areas so remote fixed wireless won't do the job.

Presuming that there will be a delay between the election and shovels cleaving soil, the opposition has given itself perhaps two-and-a-half years to deliver a near-national FTTN footprint, or at least to ensure other infrastructure such as the seldom-used hybrid fibre coax networks envisioned installed as pay television delivery media can be pressed into service to ensure Australians can access 25Mbps services. That's a tall order given that, aside from the engineering efforts required legal an agreement with Australia's dominant telco, Telstra, will need to be struck.

The policy emerged at a two-fisted press conference that saw Tony Abbott (opposition leader, for readers in other countries) and his spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull (described by Mr Abbott as the founder of Australia's pre-emiment Web 1.0 ISP OzEmail, which may come as a surprise to the former modem-wrangler Sean Howard who did found the company), focussed on the Coalition's complaints that the government's NBN is “a failing project”.

There will, therefore, be inquiries into the alleged failure – an “independent audit into broadband policy and NBN Co governance” – a cost-benefit analysis, and a review of telecommunications regulation.

Turnbull said the arrangement under which Australia's second-largest telco, Singtel vassal Optus, will be exiting the HFC broadband business will no be unwound, however he indicated that Telstra's HFC might be retained under an “open access” regime. ®

The Register will analyse the numbers and assumptions underlying the coalition policy over the coming days. ®

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