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Billson: Tasmania must be first served under Rudd Labor's broadband plan.

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The Hon Bruce Billson MP Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Ensuring the delivery of a competitive, open access fibre optic link from Tasmania to the main land, along with other new affordable broadband services must be among the first priorities for the Rudd Labor Government under its vague national broadband network proposal.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) at a Communications forum in Launceston, Shadow Minister for Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy, Bruce Billson, will call on Labor's Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to categorically commit to guaranteeing Tasmania will gain new, affordable, high speed broadband services in the first year of roll out under the government's national network plan.

The lack of competitive fibre optic backhaul into Tasmania is depriving long suffering consumers on the Apple Isle access to the same cost effective Internet services enjoyed by many in the mainland states and delivered by private sector competition. Monopolised Telstra backhaul to Tasmania and the failure of the state Labor government to get the Basslink cables commercialised and lit are serious issues that the Rudd Labor Government must overcome.

This has been made all the more urgent as a result of the Rudd Labor Government's reckless culling of the former Coalition Government's OPEL broadband project, which would have seen Tasmania gain open 400 kms of new open access backhaul, as well as the installation of 45 new wireless broadband base stations by the end of 2009.

The previous government allocated $958 million towards the OPEL project, designed to bring affordable, metro equivalent broadband services to underserved premises across Australia, including an estimated 30,000 in Tasmania. Rudd Labor scrapped this plan without having any alternative to it.

The Tasmanian State Government and groups such as Digital Tasmania have told the Rudd Government that Tasmania, including its economy, has been adversely affected by the scrapping of OPEL and that something must be urgently done to ensure the disadvantage is not indefinite.

Rudd Labor has promised that roll out of its national broadband network will be progressive over the next five years, beginning before the end of 2008. I am calling on Senator Conroy to guarantee the people of Tasmania that they will be among the first in the nation to gain affordable new broadband services, through the provision of open access fibre optic backhaul and other new services, under his broadband plan.