Budget benefits bush broadband

Millions spent on local initiatives

The federal government will pour $270.7 million into regional broadband incentives, two weeks after it attempted to use the funds for its National Broadband Network (NBN).

The funds for the Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) will be tipped in over the next four years to provide Internet access solutions including satellite and wireless to regional Australia.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the stop-gap measure will improve regional broadband services while the NBN is rolled out.

"It is important that all Australians have equitable access to broadband, both while the network is being rolled out, and in those most remote areas that the new network may not cover," Conroy said.

"Changes will be made to the ABG to encourage greater terrestrial broadband access and to target Australians living in remote and difficult-to-service 'blackspot' areas.

"There will be greater incentives for industry to take a whole-of-region approach to network deployment. The certainty of funding will also ensure ISPs are not hindered from making longer-term plans for building infrastructure."

The government will conduct a consultation process to map out policy and develop rural broadband initiatives for areas not serviced by the $8 billion Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) network.

The ABG will be expanded to focus more on larger Internet access projects, such as community Wi-Fi incentives, which develop tailored solutions designed with local knowledge.

ISPs have long-called on government to fund localised broadband projects, rather than national roll-outs.

Michael Feldbauer, director of Northern Territory-based ISP Arafura Connect, which offers fixed and wireless broadband,called the now failed OPEL network a feeble overbuild of existing infrastructure.

"The previous government should have consulted local ISPs or conglomerates that are operating in regional areas and should have allocated HiBis (Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme) funds to them to bolster their already working and profitable services," Feldbauer said.

The ABG was set up by the Howard government with $162.5 million early last year, to provide incentive payments to ISPs to supply bandwidth services in regional and remote areas at metropolitan prices.

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Darren Pauli

Computerworld
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