Communications minister Stephen Conroy has today pulled the plug on funding the regional broadband network rollout awarded to the Optus/Elders joint venture called OPEL.

The former Howard government committed A$958 million in funding to deliver a regional network, including to indigenous communities. One of the conditions however, was for the OPEL conglomerate to undertake testing and mapping to substantiate the service coverage area as set out in its proposal. OPEL was required to confirm that it would provide coverage ‘reasonably equivalent' to 90 per cent of ‘under-served' premises as identified by the department of broadband communications and the digital economy (DBCDE).

OPEL's Implementation Plan, submitted to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) on January 9, failed to meet the terms of a contract made with the previous Government. “DBCDE performed an analysis of the detailed testing and mapping undertaken by OPEL, and determined that the OPEL network would cover only 72% of identified under-served premises,” Senator Conroy said.

“On the basis of DBCDE's assessment, the Government determined that OPEL's Implementation Plan did not satisfy the condition precedent of the funding agreement, and as a result the contract has been terminated.”

DBCDE undertook a detailed assessment of the testing and mapping contained in OPEL's Implementation Plan. The assessment found that OPEL did not achieve the required service coverage.

“This was the final failed broadband plan produced by the former Coalition Government,” Senator Conroy said.

“The Rudd Government has committed up to $4.7 billion to build a high-speed, open access, fibre based National Broadband Network. The new network will deliver minimum speeds [of symmetrical] 12Mbps to 98% of Australian homes and businesses.”

“The remaining 2% will continue to receive support through the Government's $95 million investment in the Australian Broadband Guarantee for 2008-2009. In addition to this, at the same time as it issues the request for proposals for the National Broadband Network, the Government will call for comments on policy and funding initiatives to improve access to affordable broadband in these remote areas into the future,” Senator Conroy said.


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