More information is emerging about the Singtel-Optus-backed consortium which is opposed to the roll-out of Telstra’s five city, high speed broadband network and presenting a rival bid.

Telstra has accused its opponent, the Terria consortium, of frustrating the start of its new network which will revolutionize internet and mobile communications across the country.

Terria, chaired by former NSW Treasurer Michael Egan, is nothing more than an $8 shelf company registered with ASIC.

Each of the eight shareholders, who are also directors, hold a single $1 share. They are: Ravi Bhatia, CEO, Primus Telecom; Simon Hackett, MD, Internode; David Tudehope, CEO, Macquarie Telecom Group; Michael Malone, MD, IINet; Paul O’Sullivan, CEO, Optus; Paul Broad, CEO, AAPT; Ivan Slavich, CEO, TransAct; and Egan.

While the NSW Iemma Government has just launched an expensive policy to turn Sydney into THE financial hub of the Asia-Pacific, the former Treasurer is heading a Singapore Government-led company which has other ideas.

In a largely under-reported address to the American Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne this week, Telstra’s group managing director in charge of public policy, and communications, “Big” Phil Burgess, unloaded on the Rudd Government, Graeme Samuel’s ACCC and Terria.

“We’ve been trying to get broadband to everybody in Australia for 37 months now and everybody seems to want it except the government and the regulator,” he said.

He said that whenever governments were pressed to push major infrastructure initiatives, their stock response was to reply “But we must get it right”.

“But the notion of ‘get it right’ means that we’re going to sit back, we’re going to think about it, and we’re going to make sure we get it right.”

In the meantime, investors are hung out to dry. In the meantime, shareholders are hung out to dry. In the meantime, technologies pass us by.

“In my view it’s time to say — let’s get down to building, not talking about building, not having inquiries about building, not having studies about building, not having commitments to build.”

After giving a detailed summary of Telstra’s massive expenditure on the broadband proposal, Burgess rounded on the rival bidder which has been introduced in the name of competition and consumer protection.

“That’s the kind of planning and investment we have done to position ourselves to do this. Has anybody else done that? Has Optus done it, or Floptus, or Boptus or any other the others?”

“If they have, show us the money, show us the centre, show us where your human resources plans are, show the public, show Senator (Stephen) Conroy (federal Communications Minister), so that we can all know that you are prepared to build the national broadband network.”

Then he criticised Terria and reminded his audience that chairman Egan was one of the main architects of the failed Sydney Cross City Tunnel that went broke. When Egan appeared before a parliamentary inquiry to investigate the Cross City tunnel debacle, he famously said: “I was proudly involved in this very fine project, right up to my little fat neck.”

Burgess added: “The company that is being taken most seriously as an alternative to Telstra has a net worth of $8. Now, who’s going to give a company with a net worth of $8 a, say, $10 billion float? I mean, if you know somebody who will do that, hell, I can put together $10 or $12. I’d like to get their money.”

He criticised the delays in government decision-making, saying: “They were supposed to have a decision by June 2008 and we still don’t know when it’s going to be. The earliest I think it can probably be done is June 2009. A 12-month slip.”

So much for Kevin 07’s pre-election rhetoric about spreading broadband nationwide to boost the economy, productivity and education. Kevin 08 is a meeker, milder, more cautious animal than the earlier model.

Peter Fray

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