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Queensland injects $250m into QCN to roll out FTTP, mobile backhaul in regions

The Queensland government will invest $250 million in publicly owned fibre operator QCN to support an expansion of the telco’s network. That will include delivering FTTP connections in some regional communities, with the initiative linked to the state’s ‘Super Grid’ power infrastructure program.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the funding would support a “one hundredfold increase in internet speeds in key parts of Queensland.”

The funding for high-speed telco infrastructure is one way the government will work to address the impact on communities from Super Grid construction.

“What I’ve always said is, it’s no good painting cricket fences in communities that you’re disrupting,” QCN CEO Derek Merdith told CommsDay. “You need to give something that’s meaningful and long lasting. And dropping fibre into towns and giving them fibre quality services is far better for generations of people in the community than painting fences.”

The QCN announcement was a centrepiece of the premier’s annual ‘state of the state’ address to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia.

“This investment will bring fibre and wireless connectivity to the regions to bridge that digital divide,” Palaszczuk said and will “create the largest publicly owned regional fibre network in the nation.”

“It will provide capital city speeds in the regions supporting high-paying tech jobs,” she told the CEDA event.

“It will support new opportunities to locate sovereign data centres near to renewable energy and support the data connections needed for advanced manufacturing jobs in regional centres.”

A key component will be the CopperString 2.0 high-voltage transmission line: A $5 billion mega-project led by Powerlink.

QCN is jointly owned by Powerlink and Energy Queensland, and sells capacity on the state-owned energy utilities’ fibre assets.

QCN will build FTTP to townships along the CopperString route. The telco said its infrastructure is expected to enable services of up to 10Gbps.

The 1000+ kilometre CopperString will stretch from Townsville to Mount Isa and will connect Queensland’s North West Minerals Province to the National Electricity Market.

Major towns on the route include Cloncurry and Charters Towers.

“Part of the social licence will be to provide fibre infrastructure to the premise in those towns,” Merdith said.

“Now, we don’t deliver end user products. We’re not an ISP. We need to find a partner to deliver that.”

“For some of these smaller towns, we’ve done the numbers: It’s not much more expensive to offer fibre to the premise than it is to put a high capacity wireless network in,” the CEO said.

“And once the fibre is in there, again, it’s generational and whatever technology comes down next — those people in those communities are going to have the capacity to have whatever people have in Brisbane or Sydney CBD. So let’s not muck around. Let’s give them what we can do now.”

He said that in a lot of the smaller communities, laying fibre was not commercially viable. However, the roll out of high voltage power lines as part of the Super Grid “get us really close to the towns.”

QCN will also work with telcos to address mobile blackspots across the Super Grid footprint.

A 2022 deal with Powerlink also gave QCN the ability to sell access to some 20,000 towers across Queensland. Palaszczuk announced in March that the Queensland government would own and deliver CopperString.

“To support today’s announcement, QCN and Powerlink will begin early works immediately on the Copperstring 2032 section of the Supergrid,” Palaszczuk said yesterday in her CEDA address.

“These early works will lay the communications foundations for the construction rollout of Copperstring. It’s the first step in the much bigger rollout of the QCN network across the Supergrid.”

The premier pledged that as part of the project, communities along the Flinders Highway “will get early access to super-fast broadband by next year.”

Since its 2020 commercial debut, QCN has commercialised around 13,000 kilometres of fibre, and Palaszczuk announced in July that the telco was working with Queensland Rail on opportunities to leverage the transport operator’s telco assets.

Rohan Pearce

As appeared in Communications Day – 5 October 2023 – commsday.com