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Australia unveils Internet plan

THE Australian government launched an ambitious plan yesterday to make the nation one of the world's most wired countries, shunning private bids and announcing that a new state-controlled company would build a A$43-billion (US$30 billion) network from scratch.

The decision stunned observers, who said the plan was far more ambitious in scope and capacity than had previously been signaled, and could reshape Australia's telecommunications landscape.

Announcing the plan, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it would deliver broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second to 90 percent of Australian homes, schools and businesses within eight years through fiber-optic cables connected directly to buildings. The other 10 percent of people would get a wireless upgrade.

The new speeds are 100 times faster than most Australians currently get ?? enough to watch multiple high-quality downloads of movies or television shows at once from the same connection. Only a handful of countries ?? South Korea, Japan, France and Germany among then ?? currently have comparable speeds.

"This new super fast national broadband network ... is the most ambitious, far-reaching and long-term nation-building infrastructure project ever undertaken by an Australian government," Rudd told a news conference in the national capital, Canberra.

Public-private firm

A yet-to-be named company would build the network, funded by government money with private companies invited to invest and provide technical expertise and resources. Private sector ownership would be capped at 49 percent.

The network will cost up to AU$43 billion to build over eight years with the rollout slated to begin next year. The government will start with a AU$4.7-billion initial investment, with the rest to come from private companies and government bonds.

Critics said the plan could fail if the desired level of private investment was not reached, leaving the public to pay the whole cost through higher prices for Internet access.

"The government has provided no evidence that there will be sufficient demand for this service at prices that enable the network to deliver a commercial return," opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said.



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