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Aussie govt. goes public-private on fiber to home

The National Broadband Network tender process gets terminated in favor or the government establishing a public-private fiber-based partnership, to reach 90 percent of citizens.

The Australian government has terminated the National Broadband Network tender process with no winner, instead flagging plans to invest billions of dollars in building its own fiber-to-the-home network to 90 percent of Australians over the next eight years.

Citing "deterioration of the economy," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Treasurer Wayne Swan, along with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, said at a Canberra press conference on Tuesday morning that the government had not found any of the NBN bids, by players such as Acacia, Optus, Axia Netmedia, satisfactory.

Instead of accepting an NBN bid, Rudd said, the federal government would establish a company in partnership with the private sector to roll out its own network, based on fiber-to-the-home technology, that would reach 90 percent of Australians with speeds of up to 100Mbps.

"This is the single largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australia's history," Rudd said, comparing the project to the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme and the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The remaining 10 percent of Australians would be served by a combination of ADSL broadband, wireless, and satellite.

Conroy said the government had found merit in the Tasmanian Government's submission to the NBN process and would begin negotiating with the state's government in the next 24 hours as to how its portion of the NBN could begin construction. "The Tasmanian rollout can be commenced by the middle of the year, June, July," he said.

The NBN company will be majority-owned by the Australian federal government, Rudd said, with private investment to be taken of up to 49 percent of the company. The government's share will, subject to market conditions, be sold off by the federal government five years after the network is complete, Rudd said.

Rudd said the company would invest up to $43 billion into the network, not all of which the government would provide. The government is putting in an initial investment of $4.7 billion.

The NBN company will provide only wholesale services, Rudd said, with open access being provided to retail providers.

Rudd said the network would create 7,000 jobs and $37 billion in economic activity for the life of the project.

As part of the new NBN process, Conroy has released a discussion paper on telecommunications regulatory reform. It is available from the Web site of his Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy.

The Prime Minister added that the creation of the company would solve "once and for all" the perceived conflict of interest in Telstra owning Australia's main telecommunications infrastructure and also providing retail services.

"Our critics might say: 'Just let broadband be sorted out by the markets,'" Rudd said. "It hasn't occurred over the last's time we bit the bullet on this."

Renai LeMai of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.