Conroy wins communications portfolio

Australia closer to a $8 billion fibre backbone

Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd today announced that Stephen Conroy will retain the communications portfolio.

The new Minister for Communication, Broadband and Digital Economy, who was unintentionally forgotten by Rudd when he unveiled his Cabinet line up today, will be charged with revamping Australia's broadband infrastructure, the Universal Service Obligation (USO), and competition in the telecommunications industry.

An expert taskforce, to be installed next week, will review the government's planned $8 billion national Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) network and the proposed structural separation of Telstra following deployment.

Australia's broadband road map will remain unclear until the taskforce bears fruit, despite much squabbling between Conroy and former Communications Minister Helen Coonan over the best network model.

It is also unclear how the former government's $1.9 billion OPEL WiMAX network will integrate with the government's FttN plans and avoid overlap, following Conroy's commitment to honour the signed contract.

Coonan promised that the network will supply 99 percent of Australians with 12Mbps broadband access by mid 2009.

However the OPEL consortium is yet to select a suitable WiMAX spectrum, hardware or even elect a CEO.

According to an Optus spokesperson, the consortium "does not officially exist" and is "fumbling over suitable spectrum". He said the 5.8Ghz public spectrum does not have enough capacity to meet the promised speeds, and suggested the network will be built on lower-end bands.

He said while the 700GHz band is a technical fit, it is not a viable option because it will continue to be used by free-to-air television until 2012.

The taskforce will also discuss the objectives of the USO, which has been a sticking point for Telstra over providing broadband access and telecommunications services to regional Australia.

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