Thursday, 9 February 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan. Is the minister aware of any recent evidence regarding the uptake of broadband internet in Australia? Will the minister advise the Senate on how the government is helping Australians connect to broadband? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?
I do thank Senator Heffernan for the question and acknowledge his genuine longstanding interest in ensuring Australians around the country have access to adequate internet services. I am happy to say that I am aware of some recent evidence, a report from the ACCC, that shows that broadband take-up in Australia is continuing to forge ahead. In fact, according to the most recent report, released last month, there were almost 2.6 million broadband services connected across Australia. This represents an increase of over one million customers, or 98 per cent, just over the preceding 12 months. Total quarterly growth in broadband was 19 per cent for the September 2005 quarter, on the back of 18.4 per cent growth in the June quarter. In fact, growth of broadband subscribers has topped 18 per cent for seven consecutive quarters. This is, I think we will all agree, phenomenal growth and makes the continual carping from those opposite about broadband coverage sound a bit hollow, particularly given the ALP’s history of wanting to mandate the spending of billions of dollars on outdated dial-up services. Even though, to listen to those opposite, you would think that ADSL technology is the only type of broadband there is, in fact there has been a significant growth across all technologies—cable, ADSL, wireless and satellite.
Senator Heffernan asked me how the government is helping to drive the take-up of broadband, and I also have some very good news on that front. I can inform the Senate that there are now 36 providers offering affordable broadband connections in regional Australia under the government’s new $878 million Broadband Connect program. It is a great outcome for telecommunications competition in regional Australia—
and it means that customers actually have a choice of services from carriers like Telstra and Optus or smaller providers such as BorderNET and WestNet. The first stage of Broadband Connect continues the successful HiBIS formula and it ensures that anyone in Australia who wants access to an affordable broadband solution can get access to a subsidised connection—
over satellite, wireless or ADSL. The second stage of Broadband Connect will take effect from 1 July 2006. I am happy to say there has been an overwhelming response to a public discussion paper released on government broadband funding. These submissions provide a very sound basis from which to develop guidelines for the next stage of Broadband Connect. A significant increase in the funding which we were able to secure as part of the Telstra vote provides an incredible opportunity, I believe, to deliver advanced and sustainable broadband solutions into regional Australia. I have to say that there are some very impressive and innovative ideas coming forward.
Senator Conroy was as usual trying to talk down these great achievements of the government. I notice that in the last offering from Senator Conroy he thought that the ALP should put some thought into broadband and then he fell straight into the trap of picking a technology. But we know that a mix of technologies provides a range of solutions, and that is what we will deliver. The government will continue to stand up for rural and regional Australia and continue to deliver improved communications.