Call for nationwide cable solution

Around Australia, various Councils are taking action against, what is described by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) as, ‘unplanned and unreasonable telecommunications infrastructure threatening to cover urban Australia with an obscene black spaghetti-like cable network’.

However, the Communications Minister, Senator Alston has now made it clear that Local Government complaints and legal action will not force the Government to stop, slow down or force the cables underground.

Local Government leaders from around Australia have expressed outrage about the Government’s latest response to this debate.”The underlying thrust of the statement suggests that Senator Alston is willing to capitulate to the carriers and outdated technical advice,” said Mayor David Plumridge, President ALGA.

“We have received advice that technology being used by Telstra and Optus is anything but modern. The medium is new, the benefits are good, but the infrastructure being developed is old fashioned.

“Australians want new technology consistent with the 21st century which will not cause permanent environmental damage for short term financial gain. Stringing up heavy cables across our suburbs is simply unacceptable to the majority of Australians.”

As cable networks overseas are almost totally underground, why should Australia be dogged with this outmoded overhead infrastructure? With overhead cabling 25% the cost of undergrounding, the answer is simply financial. As Telstra has recently announced, to be competitive, it will also be going overhead, communities face the prospect of two cables, and with further opening up of the telecommunications industry during 1997, any number of cables!

“There are big money interests pushing barrows for their self interest, including Telstra, and Senator Alston is showing signs of being as captive to these interests as his predecessor,” David Plumridge said.

In April, NSW Councils from Concord, Manly, North Sydney and Woollahra were successful in a Supreme Court action against Optus for breach of the Telecommunications National Code. The Court ruled that Optus had failed to adequately consult with local communities and have proper regard for the environment.

ALGA is working with Local Government leaders in all States to ensure that this legal victory is applicable nationally and that legal action taken against carriers in other States is adequately coordinated. However, according to the NSW Local Government Association, the recent Supreme Court decision has forced Optus to reconsider its roll outs in the four Council areas that took the action, but it is refusing to acknowledge the significance of this decision on its operations in other areas!

Local communities around the nation could all face their own court battles. If the resources are not available to take on the telecommunication giants, according to the ALGA, these areas and streetscapes will end up unsightly, unpleasant junk yards.

Using a different tack, Banyule and Maroondah Councils in Victoria have entered an agreement with Optus, which they believe is the first of its kind in Australia. This creates a fragmented approach, with agreements varying from area to area depending on the resources and skills of Councils in negotiating on behalf of their communities.

For this reason, the ALGA has requested that Councils do not enter into any agreements until a national approach is put in place.