The industry is calling on the new Labor government to show its hand and provide further details of its high-speed national broadband plans.
One of Labor's key election promises was to invest $4.7 billion into a national fibre network. Aimed at offering minimum access speeds of 12Mbps, the network is scheduled to be rolled out over five years, covering 98 per cent of the population and costing around $8.7 billion. While supportive of the initiative, industry representatives say details are scarce.
Several telcos said a more alarming issue was how the government will ensure healthy long-term competition should Telstra build the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network. Independent telco analyst, Paul Budde, said Labor faced a tricky task getting Australia's broadband into shape. "The government could force Telstra to open up its network and create competition that way. They put legislation in place that states everybody gets standard pricing and can operate their own content over the network," he said. "But all indications are that Telstra will fight that. It could take 12-18 months if the government is lucky, or up to five years if they're unlucky, and these timeframes don't fit with the government's broadband scheme."
Another option would be to let an alternative player build another dark fibre, high-speed network, Budde said, but there isn't enough room in the Australian market. "The government has to make a strategic decision about new infrastructure and develop a network that you can use for healthcare, assessment or education purposes," he said. "Then on top of that you can offer Internet and other services. To simply build a network in competition with Telstra is suicide."
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO, Sheryle Moon, endorsed Senator Stephen Conroy's appointment as minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy. In a statement, she said Conroy had been a strong advocate of improved telecommunications infrastructure and the wider ICT industry during his time as shadow minister. But Moon agreed the first item on his agenda should be detailing its national broadband plan. "Given that it's a complex situation, it's a good thing the minister has been the shadow for a couple of years, so he should hit the ground running," Budde said. "The government needs to show a big stick, split Telstra up and get legislation in place."
Internode carrier relations manager, John Lindsay, agreed Labor will find it difficult to translate its election campaign message.
"It's easy to promise free broadband and the whole circus but, once you are in government, the reality is that it has to be paid for," he said. "We're supportive of Senator Conroy's desire to improve broadband connectivity in Australia ... but we don't see fundamental differences between the old government and the new."
Lindsay said the biggest problem was not access speeds, but access price. This message was echoed by iiNet's managing director, Michael Malone, who said customers were all for high-speed broadband until they saw the price tag.
"If you invest $9 billion into this new network and the government and industry need a rate of return, who is going to pay for it?" Malone asked. "Based on our estimates, it will increase costs by $30-$50 per month. Should customers be expected to pay for that?"