Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Work begins on new fibre-optic link in WA

Joint Media Release with:

  • Senator The Hon Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and
    Senator The Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation Industry Science and Research

The Australian Government today marked the start of construction on a fibre-optic communications backbone linking Perth and Geraldton.

The work forms part of the Rudd Government’s $250m National Broadband Network (NBN) Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. It will also boost the joint Australia-New Zealand bid to host the $2.5 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio-telescope, which will be based in WA’s Mid-West if the bid is successful.

‘One of the biggest obstacles for fast affordable broadband in regional areas is the lack of competitive backbone infrastructure,’ said Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy.

‘This infrastructure provides the communication links that connect our towns, cities and rural areas to each other and the world.

‘The new 426km backbone link will connect Perth to Geraldton and will directly benefit around 35,000 people in regional Western Australia.

‘Once complete, other broadband providers will be able to enter the market and offer faster broadband speeds, cheaper prices and more choice for people and businesses across the region.

‘In total, the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program will deliver almost 6,000 kms of fibre-optic cable across mainland Australia, which will benefit up to 400,000 people in over 100 regional locations. Already, over 600kms of fibre has been laid.’

Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr said the fibre-optic backbone would be of great benefit to the Australian SKA Pathfinder radio-telescope, which is being built to demonstrate Australia’s capacity to host the $2.5 billion SKA radio-telescope.

‘This infrastructure comes on top of the fibre-optic link between the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory and Geraldton being built by the CSIRO,’ Senator Carr said.

‘The Perth-to-Geraldton backbone will provide an affordable, high-capacity link that can be used to transmit large volumes of scientific data for processing.

‘This infrastructure is a tremendous boost to the SKA bid. The combination of the new backbone link and CSIRO’s fibre means we can offer the international project a cost-effective solution to the massive data transport requirements of the SKA.

‘This is a significant advance in proving the feasibility of the project and highlighting the already significant scientific and logistical advantages of the Western Australian site.

‘Hosting the SKA will give Australia and New Zealand a key role in a true mega-science project of global reach and great scientific and technical ambition.’

The contest to host the SKA – to be 50 times larger than any existing radio-telescope – is between Australia-New Zealand and Southern Africa. A decision is expected by 2012.

In addition to Geraldton, the new backbone will deliver services to regional locations including South Geraldton, Port Denison, Bluff Point, and Dongara.

Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin said civil engineering on the Perth to Geraldton route would be undertaken by Visionstream and Ngarda Alliance. Ngarda Alliance is a West Australian based Indigenous engineering services firm specialising in civil and mining projects.

‘The involvement of Ngarda Alliance in this project will deliver important employment and training opportunities for a number of Indigenous staff,’ Ms Macklin said.

Senator Conroy said $5 million was also being provided for Rural NBN Coordinators to assist communities to take full advantage of the new infrastructure.

‘The coordinators will work closely with key community organisations, including local councils, Regional Development Australia offices, State and Territory governments, local chambers of commerce and community groups,’ Senator Conroy said.

‘The backbone links are just the start. The National Broadband Network will ensure affordable, high-speed broadband is expanded to all homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces across Australia,’ Senator Conroy said.

More information, maps and fact sheets are available from DBCDE website.