Internet for regions: State steps in to fix federal NBN mess
MILLIONS of Queenslanders will get access to faster, cheaper internet with the launch of a State Government tech revolution.
The once-in-a-generation scheme will make available an enormous amount of spare capacity along 6000km of fibre-optic cable, which was installed throughout regional Queensland to service state-owned corporations.
"This will change the face of communications for much of Queensland," technology tycoon and former state chief entrepreneur Steve Baxter told The Sunday Mail.
"This is the equivalent of building the Bruce Highway, but better - an infinite-lane freeway offering unlimited capacity for the regions.
"It is hard to get across the scale of this. The benefits will be massive," said Mr Baxter, a judge on TV's Shark Tank.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will today announce a new state-owned entity set up to lease the capacity to internet retail service providers, who will offer packages to households and companies.
Called FibreCo Queensland, it should be in operation by the middle of next year.
More than 600,000 homes and businesses will be able to benefit from enhanced connectivity from the Sunshine Coast to Cairns, through cities such as Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville, as well as smaller surrounding towns.
The network also stretches inland as far as Emerald and Roma. Toowoomba will be included but not the rest of southeast Queensland, which is already better served.
The fibre-optic network was installed years ago to support state-owned utilities such as Powerlink and Energy Queensland. But as much as 50 per cent of the capacity is not needed.
Consumer prices will be set by internet service providers, but modelling for Treasury by KPMG and obtained by The Sunday Mail suggested FibreCo could offer up to 10 times the capacity at a lower price than providers using the NBN in regional areas.
In addition to offering domestic regional customers similar speeds to those in urban centres, the vastly enhanced capacity could encourage more businesses to set up or relocate outside the southeast corner.
"Fast and reliable internet is vital when it comes to running a business," Ms Palaszczuk said.
Innovation Minister Kate Jones said the move would level the playing field.
"You should get the same quality service as someone in Brisbane, for the same price.
"Increasing competition in the backhaul market will lead to more internet service providers entering the regional market."
Regional Queensland has been highlighted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as one of the least competitive markets in the country.
"For too long, regional Queensland has been getting a raw deal. The federal Government's NBN has been an unmitigated failure."
Luke Baker, co-founder of Bundaberg-based internet retail service provider Open Cloud Broadband, said access to the greater capacity would allow his firm to boost bandwidth allocation for every customer through lower wholesale pricing.
What is FibreCo Queensland?
A new jointly owned trading company of state-owned corporations Powerlink and Energy Queensland.
What will it do?
Lease spare capacity on an existing fibre-optic cable network in regional Queensland to retail internet service providers.
Where will it be available?
Cities and towns between the Sunshine Coast and Cairns, and inland to Emerald and Roma.
What is the benefit?
Greater capacity means faster, more reliable internet and greater competition.
How much will customers save?
It depends on the providers' packages, but modelling suggests wholesale access could be up to 10 times cheaper.