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SingTel fury at axed Australian contract

03 апреля 2008

Singapore Telecommunications’ Australian subsidiary Wednesday attacked the Australian government’s controversial decision to cancel a A$1bn (US$913m) contract to build a regional broadband network.

Canberra abandoned the project’s funding after claiming the proposed network – to be built by Opel, a joint venture between SingTel’s Optus arm and Australian-listed Futuris – could not guarantee it would meet agreed coverage specifications.

Stephen Conroy, communications minister, said funding depended on the network reaching 90 per cent of so-called “underserved” premises, but government investigations found it would only reach 72 per cent.

Optus and Futuris have disputed the government’s claims; have flagged provisions in their accounts to cover expenditure; and may seek compensation.

Paul O’Sullivan, Optus chief executive, said all options were being considered. “The decision, which Opel believes is based on flawed data, was bad news for rural and regional Australia and for competition in the telecoms industry,” he said.

“Optus has made an offer to the government which I repeat publicly today: we are quite happy to have a respected independent expert audit Opel’s coverage database and the department’s coverage database,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

He called on Canberra to reconsider its decision.

“As things stand, the 15,000km of new backbone optical fibre, which would have been available to other operators at wholesale prices 30 per cent lower than existing levels, will also now not be delivered,” he said.

The regional broadband network, which was scheduled to be ready by 2009, was awarded by John Howard’s then ruling coalition government last June. It was criticised by the then Labor opposition, which went on to win office five months later.

The Labor government has since begun work on a tender for a “fibre-to-the-node” contract and has said it is willing to contribute about A$4.7bn to that project.

Geoff Booth, a Telstra executive, Wednesday welcomed the government’s move to terminate Opel’s funding. “It was a common-sense decision as the Opel plan failed to meet the fundamental requirements of the funding and would have done nothing to increase the availability of broadband access in rural and remote Australia,” he said.

Les Wozniczka, chief executive of Futuris, said the government’s decision could send out a worrying signal to the international investment community.

Источник: Financial Times

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