Australia Issues Controversial Broadband Tender

The plan for a national broadband network, issued Apr. 11, has sparked complaints and back-biting among telecom operators

Squabbling has already begun among Australian telcos over the tender for the planned national broadband network.

The Australian government announced Friday it would commit A$4.7 billion ($4.3 billion) to the project, aiming to deliver at least 12 Mbps to 98% of Australian households over the next five years.

The request for proposals (RFP) from the new minister, Stephen Conroy, follows the scrapping of the previous government's regional broadband program.

The announcement has set off complaints and recriminations within Australia's always-fractious telecom community.

Optus, one of the partners in G9—a group of nine Telstra rivals and the only local entity capable of mounting a serious bid—says the terms of the new tender are loaded towards the incumbent.

"Optus and the other members of the G9 need to look very hard at whether this cements in place for Telstra a dominant position for the next decade," Optus strategy chief Maha Krishnapillai told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Telstra's chief spokesman, Phil Burgess, told a media briefing on Friday he expected Telstra to win the contract because none of its rivals would be able to raise the cash required. "Where are they going to get the money?" he asked.

David Forman, the head of the Competitive Carriers Coalition, said it would be an "act of gross irresponsibility" to give Telstra the right to build the network and called on the government to use the process to revamp the regulatory environment. 

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the government would also consider changing industry regulations to facilitate the rollout.

The deadline for RFP submissions is June 18.