Telecommunications industry representatives have praised the first regional National Broadband Network (NBN) tender and the Federal Government’s swift efforts to kickstart the infrastructure rollout.
After announcing plans to give the bush an NBN headstart in April, the Government is now seeking candidates to build, operate and maintain backbone transmission links to regional towns. The $250 million rollout represents the first step in its ambitious $43 billion NBN plan.
“The Government is moving rapidly to deliver the National Broadband Network and will start work on high-speed infrastructure for an initial six priority regional locations,” the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, said in a statement.
Areas identified in the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program as first off the rank are: Wonthaggi, Leongatha, Korumburra, Inverloch, Foster, Yarram, Victor Harbor, Broken Hill, Darwin, Geraldton, Emerald and Longreach. ISP, iiNet, praised the Government for rolling out the regional network without waiting for a wider NBN deployment. Given the right cost and service inputs, the company would be keen to deliver services on the new network to the identified locations, iiNet managing director, Michael Malone, said in a statement.
Primus Telecommunications also expressed interest in the pending network, but criticised the project for not covering enough areas.
“This is an excellent fi rst step and shows the Government is serious in implementing the NBN,” Primus CEO, Ravi Bhatia, said. “But it should have gone far beyond the locations specifi ed.”
While it was tooearly to determine how the announcement would affect its business, fellow ISP, Netspace, was also pleased with the regional NBN plans.
“Backhaul has long been identified by the industry as being the significant link in the chain to bringing metro-equivalent services to remote areas,” carrier affairs manager, Matthew Phillips, said. “We are encouraged that the Government has taken some steps in the right direction.”
Tender documents state the government will retain ownership of the fibre optic cable assets and associated passive infrastructure. Analysts said the project would be better suited to civil construction companies, than telcos.
“Apart from the usual carriers, there are a number of civil construction firms that dig trenches and install cable,” Layer 10 analyst, Paul Brooks, said. “In terms of managing the fibre cables, a telco does not necessarily have to step in as these types of projects are usually contracted out to construction firms anyway.”
Buddecomm analyst, Paul Budde, claimed Optus and Telstra would take a backseat in the regional rollout.
“They are interested in delivering the services,” he said. “It has become clear that deploying a telecommunications infrastructure has more to do with construction than telecommunications.”
Each location, with the exception of Geraldton, is to receive a minimum of 24 optical fibres but alternative technologies, such as microwave, will be considered for small elements of the rollout.
For the first five years, tenderers will be expected to exclusively maintain and operate the backbone transmission link(s). The NBNco will then takeover on behalf of Government but may retain the original tenderer to provide the same or equivalent services.
Budde and Brooks both saw telcommunications construction group, NextGen, as the forerunner for this tender, claiming the company’s extensive experience in the field would make it a formidable candidate.
The government could also offer funding for the establishment of the new backbone transmission infrastructure. The tender closes on August 5.