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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 73

Senator MOORE (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer the minister to her claim that the government has:

... met our commitment to ensure affordability and metro-comparable pricing for all Australians regardless of where they live ...

Can the minister confirm that leading analyst Gartner has found that Australians in rural and regional areas will need to spend up to $1,000 on satellite dishes and aerials to access her second-rate service? Can the minister now guarantee that rural and regional Australians will not be forced to buy expensive equipment which Australians living in metropolitan areas do not need to have? How can the minister claim that she is providing ‘metro-comparable pricing’ if rural and regional Australians have to pay $1,000 just to access that service?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Moore for her question. I have received some advice that the wholesale network—that is, the OPEL wholesale network—will provide metro-comparable prices thanks, of course, to this government’s assistance with a subsidy to enable them to roll out a world-class new wholesale network in rural and regional Australia. Wholesale prices across the whole network will range from around $27 for entry-level services up to about $42 for the higher-speed services—that is, those up to 12 megabits, Senator Moore.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator COONAN —So that is $42 for up to 12 megabits; and for 12 megabits it is $60, if my memory serves me correctly. Whether individual users will need to update their modem will depend on the equipment they are using now and the type of service they purchase, as you would expect. Users of the new WiMAX network will most likely be required to have some specific equipment. OPEL has indicated that WiMAX equipment will not cost what Senator Moore is claiming but rather in the range of $150 to $250 including an external antenna and customer premises equipment. OPEL obviously has to advise what specific prices will be because it will need to undertake a tender and test its market for suppliers. Considering the size of the project, which is to roll out a world-class new wholesale network across Australia that will deliver affordable metro-comparable broadband to 99 per cent of Australians at 12 megabits per minute by 2009, it is anticipated that it will be able to negotiate considerable savings even on these quoted prices.

Any cost savings achieved through the tender process may be directed towards either extending its network coverage or improving service outcomes for the benefit of end users. Individual retail prices, of course, will be set by the companies which will have access to this network. Anyone can have access to it at parity prices right across the network, but obviously they will sell their services over the OPEL network for the individual retail prices they set. For instance, Elders has indicated that it will sell broadband services for around $35 for entry-level services ranging up to $60 for 12-megabit services.

We are certain that we will be able to offer metro-comparable prices. This stands in stark contrast to the Labor Party, which has only issued a press release and has never even mentioned a price, let alone a metro-comparable price. It is a complete and utter gap in the Labor Party’s policy press release. It has not even mentioned where its alleged rollout of fibre will go, let alone at what price it will go for.

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Without accurate details or even mentioning the actual cost of the equipment, isn’t this just the latest in a series of misleading claims by the government about the reality of its broadband policy? Given that the minister has now misrepresented speeds, coverage and even pricing of this second-rate service, why should anyone even believe any of the claims about this broadband policy?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I will tell you what the Australian people are asking. They are asking: where are the Labor Party’s plans? Where are their technical details? Who is going to be left out? What prices are the Labor Party going to charge? This government has a comprehensive and clear plan which the Labor Party do not like. I call on the Labor Party to come clean, to have a bit of courage, to show us their plans and to show us their details. Then they might be taken seriously.