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Coonan tested on Coalition broadband plans -

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Coonan tested on Coalition broadband plans

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

The Federal Government today announced its plan to deliver a national broadband network, sooner and
cheaper than the Labor proposal. Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan defends the
Government from criticism on how it has approached internet policy so far, and justifies the
decision to reach rural areas through wireless technology.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: And to test the Government's new broadband policy, I'm joined from our Parliament
House studio by Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan.

Helen Coonan, are the days of Australia dragging the chain on a fast competitive globally
competitive broadband network really over? Is there now a long term vision to go with a short term
fix?

HELEN COONAN: Well, the Government has both a comprehensive and an imaginative and a very efficient
plan to provide broadband to 99 per cent of the population within two years, which is ambitious but
achievable. Then, of course, the technology that's been chosen is capable of significant technology
upgrades going forward. Together with that, we've got a competitive bids process with an expert
group to advise us to roll out a fast fibre network, both in the metropolitan centres and large
regional centres. So there will be comprehensive broadband coverage from different platforms, but
with equal capabilities. And we are now offering something that hasn't been offered before and that
is 100 per cent coverage so that all Australians, regardless of where they live, will be entitled
to broadband.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And it's only taken you 11 years to get to this. You must cringe a little today as
you try to sell the Government's credentials...

HELEN COONAN: That's a seriously unfair statement, Kerry, because broadband as such has only really
become widely available. It was dial-up Internet until about 2004 and then we've had people
connecting to broadband, 4.3 million, 1 million of which have been subsidised by the Government.
And this technology simply wasn't available 11 years ago. So I think you need to be fair about
that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Faster broadband service was available before you've delivered it to the extent
that...

HELEN COONAN: Yes, it is, but this is technology and if you look back just a matter of two years,
the Labor Party was urging upon the Government that we should mandate dial up Internet for $5
billion. Now how silly would we have been if we'd succumbed to that? Technology evolves and we have
now got the best mix of technologies to deliver broadband to 100 per cent of the population and
that is an achievement.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Rupert Murdoch understands broadband. He understands the pace of technology and how
it changes. He's a big global communications player who knows Australia. He said only seven months
ago that Australia's Internet infrastructure was a disgrace. World Internet pioneer Larry Smarr
said a week ago about Australia and the globally interconnected economy "Australia ranks 42nd in
the world in the cost of Internet service, 38th in mobile phone costs, 40th on the availability of
skilled labour and engineers and 20th on scientific infrastructure". Put Rupert Murdoch and Larry
Smarr together, and they add up, don't they, to Government neglect on broadband?

HELEN COONAN: No, they don't. First of all, Rupert Murdoch knows a good commercial proposition when
he sees one, and he's in the business of content. So the more he can push content down a fast pipe,
the more it will suit him. He will be able to do that under the Government's plan. As for the other
visitor what he was quoting from Kerry was the size of submarine cables, nothing to do with
domestic Internet broadband. He was talking about things like a gigabyte of power, which is
something that you hardly even get in universities.

So I think we have to put all these international statistics in some kind of context. Once I was
aware of the way in which the OECD was compiling statistics that didn't, in fact, rate our
performance I think correctly, I've written to them. The United States also has a problem with the
way in which the OECD has compiled statistics. And we're going to be cooperating to ensure that we
actually count the right statistics going forward.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You're talking about the superior connection to the bush, and in that you're
claiming that the wireless connections will deliver fast speed Internet services up to 50
kilometres. Now you know that that is an absolute best-case scenario that will not apply in many
instances, don't you?

HELEN COONAN: No. What I've said was the actual proposal says that you can push a signal under this
current proposal that we've got to 20 kilometres from a base station. There is some literature
which suggests that it should be 50 kilometres. What we're, in fact, saying is it's 20 kilometres
from a base station. And isn't that a bit better than trying to get a connection from fibre, Kerry,
which can't go fast four kilometres from an exchange?

Now if you happen to be on a rural property and you live more than four kilometres from an exchange
the Labor Party has absolutely no answer for you and you will under our proposal be able to get
fast Internet. You'll be able to take your laptop out to the shed and you'll be able to get on with
business in the global economy and have the kind of speeds up.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Really that simple, Senator? You'll be able to take your laptop out to the shed?
There are many instances in the city where you can't even do that. Let me put to you...

HELEN COONAN: You haven't got this rolled out yet, Kerry. What I'm suggesting is that this new
WiMAX technology will provide the biggest boost to competition that we've seen in this country
since deregulation. It's a new wholesale, independent network that anyone can access and and it's
going to provide prices at metro comparable prices, $35, up to $60 for these very fast speeds.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Okay, well let me... We've got very little time left...

HELEN COONAN: Basically people haven't been able to get that until now.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've made the point. This is what one of the two partners Elders and Optus, these
are the people that will get nearly $1 billion of Government money to assist them to deliver the
service...

HELEN COONAN: They're putting in $1 billion too.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Yes. To assist them, I said, to deliver this service. They've said they'll initially
deliver speeds up to 6 megabytes, rising to 12 megabits of speed by 2009 and up to the same with
ADSL2 plus. Actual speeds, they say - actual speeds, that's the reality - will vary due to various
factors such as distance from the base stations, selected service, customer equipment and general
Internet traffic. In other words the more people hooking onto the traffic the slower it gets?

HELEN COONAN: But that's the case with any technology, Kerry. I mean, if you happen to live right
at the end of a loop from an exchange you will get a less better service. If there's a lot of
service already on a line that's the problem that you will have....There's no argument about that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That's not true fibre-to-the-node, is it?

HELEN COONAN: There are problems with fibre-to-the-node because once again you've got to be right
up against an exchange to even be able to get it. At least with wireless when you can't access
fibre... assuming you can push fibre out that far, you've got to have a curve, you've got to have
an exchange and be close enough to get the benefits of fibre.

Let me tell you, Kerry, I'm very close to the business case that it will take to roll out a fibre
network and I can absolutely guarantee you that it will take up to $4 billion or $5 billion to roll
it out in metropolitan areas. Another $1 billion to do it in the outer rims in outer metropolitan.
That would leave about $3 billion of Labor's ill-conceived plan to try to cover the country. Can't
be done. They would be pushing it if they got to 70 per cent.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And you'll be able to do it more effectively, more efficiently than you've been able
to deliver mobile phone coverage around the country?

HELEN COONAN: What we've said and announced today is that this will commence in about September and
be rolled out by mid 2009. That's in two years. That's an extraordinary result.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And that's after the next election that we'll be able to test it?

HELEN COONAN: The ADSL exchanges that are being enabled under this arrangement can get very fast
speeds, up to about 20 megabits if they're turned up. Now they'll be rolled out in the next few
weeks. Then on top of that with this proposal we've got about another 15,000 kilometres of
back-haul and a 30 per cent reduction in prices. This is a very good package for Australia and
especially for rural and regional.

KERRY O'BRIEN: We're out of time. Thanks Senator for talking with us.

HELEN COONAN: Thanks, Kerry.

(c) 2007 ABC