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Telstra, Australia Discuss Plan to Build Web Network
By Rachel Pannett
The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

CANBERRA, Australia -- Telstra Corp. will work with Australia's newly elected Labor government on its election promise to build an A$4.7 billion ($4.14 billion) high-speed Internet network.

But the company won't be a part of any deal that requires it to share ownership of the infrastructure with the government or rival companies, Telstra director of public policy Phil Burgess said yesterday.

Local media reported earlier yesterday that the broadband-Internet plan could be derailed by Telstra, after Mr. Burgess told a postelection industry forum Monday his company wouldn't participate in any shared-equity plan.

But Mr. Burgess later said that Telstra is talking with the government about other kinds of public-private partnerships.

"We are not interested in doing consortiums with other companies, and we are not interested in a joint-equity arrangement with the government. But there are other kinds of ways that we can work with the government, and we are willing to do it and eager to do it," Mr. Burgess said.

The broadband network -- which the Labor government says would provide 98% of Australian homes with high-speed Internet services -- was a key issue in the six-week federal election campaign, which saw the center-left party defeat the 11-year-old Liberal-National coalition government by a landslide.

Broadband became a hot political issue ahead of the election amid concerns that Australia's Internet speeds lag well behind those of other industrialized nations.

The coalition government favored a private-sector approach and was taking submissions on building a privately funded high-speed network in urban centers.

Telstra, a former government-owned monopoly and Australia's largest telecommunications company by subscriber numbers, is viewed as a front-runner to build Labor's fiber network, along with the so-called G9 coalition, led by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. unit Optus.

The Labor government hopes to have the necessary telecommunications legislation in place within six months, with the fiber rollout to start next year. It plans to disband a panel formed by the previous government and create a new committee to assess its fiber plan.

Write to Rachel Pannett at rachel.pannett@dowjones.com

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119680811308513566.html?mod=telecommunications_primary_hs