Telecommunications in Australia

Telecommunications in Australia involvesthe availability and use of electronic devices and services, such as thetelephone, television, radio or computer, for the purpose ofcommunication.

Early Following federation, the colonial networks were transferred to theCommonwealth and became the responsibility of the firstPostmaster-General, a federal Minister overseeing the Postmaster-General'sDepartment that managed all domestic telephone, telegraph and postalservices.

With 16,000 staff it accounted for 80% of the new federal bureaucracy.

That figure climbed to over 120,000 staff by the late sixties.

Public phones were available in a handful of post offices and otherwiserestricted to major businesses, government agencies, institutions andwealthier residences.

Eight million telegrams were sent that year over43,000 miles of line.

There were around 33,000 phones acrossAustralia, with 7,502 telephone subscribers in inner Sydney and 4,800 inthe Melbourne central business district.

A trunk line between Melbourne andSydney was established in 1907, with extension to Adelaide in 1914, Brisbanein 1923, Perth in 1930 and Hobart in 1935.

Overseas cable links to Australia remained in private hands, reflectingthe realities of imperial politics, demands on the new government'sresources, and perceptions of its responsibilities.

On 12 July 1906 thefirst Australian wireless overseas messages were sent between PointLonsdale, Victoria and Devonport, Tasmania.

Australia and New Zealandratified the 1906 Berlin Radio-telegraph Convention in 1907.

The PMG departmentbecame responsible for some international shortwave services -particularly from the 1920s – and for a new Coastal Radio Service in 1911, withthe first of a network of stations operational in February 1912.

During the 1930s the PMG became responsible for the AustralianBroadcasting Commission.

Background to the service:Australia's first telephone service was launched in 1879.

The private MelbourneTelephone Exchange Company opened Australia's first telephone exchange inAugust 1880.

Around 7,757 calls were handled in 1884.

The Australian networks were government assets operating under coloniallegislation modelled on that of Britain.

The UK Telegraph Act 1868 for exampleempowered the Postmaster General to "acquire, maintain and work electrictelegraphs" and foreshadowed the 1870 nationalisation of competing Britishtelegraph companies.

The nature of the networks meant thatregulation in Australia was undemanding: network personnel were governmentemployees or agents, legislation was enhanced on an incremental basis andrestrictions could be achieved through infrastructure.

All the colonies rantheir telegraph networks at a deficit through investment in infrastructure andsubsidisation of regional access, generally with bipartisan support.

Government-operated post office and telegraph networks – the largest partsof the bureaucracy – were combined into a single department in each colony onthe model of the UK Post Office: South Australia in 1869, Victoria in 1870,Queensland in 1880 and New South Wales in 1893.

Deregulation and the establishment of Telstra In Australia the 1982 Davidson Enquiry regarding private sector involvement indelivery of existing/proposed telecommunications services recommendedending Telecom Australia's monopoly.

In the preceding year Aussat Pty Ltd,another government agency, had been established to operate domesticsatellite telecommunication and broadcasting services.

In practice Aussat's charter restricted it from acting as a competitor toTelecom, including a prohibition on interconnecting public switched trafficwith Telecom's network.

Aussat's viability was undermined throughrestrictions on raising capital, of critical importance given tepidgovernment support and increasing costs.

It wasn't until 1985 that Australia'sfirst geostationary communications satellite was operational; by late 1990it had debts of about $400 million.

The Australian TelecommunicationsCommission was restructured as the Australian TelecommunicationsCorporation, trading as Telecom Australia, in 1989.

That year saw thelast domestic telegram handled by Telecom, with responsibility fortelegram operations handed over to Australia Post.

Proposals for a merger of Aussat and OTC were rejected in favor of disposal ofthe satellite operator to a non-government entity that would beallowed to compete with Telecom.

Immediately following the decision thatOptus Communications – a private sector entity owned by a consortium thatincluded BellSouth – would be given Australia's second general carrierlicence purchased the Satellite assets with many of the Non Satellite Assetsremaining with the Government as part of Telstra.

Cable & Wireless, privatised after several decades of UK governmentownership, took a controlling stake in Optus in 1998 before control passed toSingTel in 2001.

Optus was initially allowed to enter theAustralian telecommunications marketplace for national long distanceand international telephone calls, with other players prevented from enteringthe general telephone market until 1997 and 'pro-competition' mechanisms underthe Trade Practices Act 1974- such as guaranteed access to Telecom's existinginfrastructure on reasonable terms – meant to ensure its viability.

Telstra also faced competition in market niches such as long distance corporatevoice and data services, with AAPT active from 1991.

MCI Communications,later absorbed by WorldCom, was an early major shareholder of AAPT but departedin 1994.

New Zealand's Todd Corporation took a 24.

5% stake in AAPT in 1992.

In1995 AAPT launched a mobile phone service, using Vodafone as its networksupplier, acquired a 50% of Australian ISP connect.


Au Pty Ltd and boughtNewsNet ITN.

In the same year SingTel acquired a 24.

5% shareholding in AAPT.

In 1996 AAPT bought 40% of Cellular One Communications, followed by QNETCommunications.

In that year it gained a carrier licence, offering long distanceservices to the residential market and building communications networks for theSouth Australian and Victorian governments.

It subsequently moved to100% of CorpTEL Communications, its AAPT Sat-Tel satellite joint venture,connect.


Au and Cellular One.

US operator Primus acquired Axicorp in1997, gaining a carriers license and expanding into internet services.

AOTC was rebadged as Telstra Corporation in 1993, trading internationally asTelstra from that year and domestically as Telstra from 1995.

Internationalexpansion was wound back in 1997-98.

In 1996 Telstra recorded the largest profitin Australian corporate history, some $3.

8 billion and was partly privatisedin November 1997 through sale by the Commonwealth of around 33.

3% of itsshareholding.

Australia's telecommunications marketwas formally opened to full competition in July 1997, with removal ofrestrictions on the number of licensed operators and anti-competitionmechanisms.

The new regime featured a single national phone numbering schemeand any-to-any connectivity requirements, with the expectation thatmobile phones, fixed-line phones and other devices would be able tocommunicate with each other irrespective of whether the service was provided byTelstra or one of its competitors.

A further 16.

6% was sold by theCommonwealth in September 1999; but the sale of the government's remaining 50.

1%stake required legislation.

In November 2006, the government sold an additional33% stake, with the remaining 17% being placed in a Future Fund, of which theCommonwealth is the primary shareholder.

At the end of 1998 there were over 20licensed telecommunications carriers controlling facilities in Australia,with several hundred other entities using those facilities to provideservices to consumers.

That number had climbed to 99 by May 2002; theAustralian Communications Authority estimated that the benefits to consumersof telecommunications services from competition in 2000/1 were between $5.

5billion and $12 billion.

Some of Telstra's overseas ventures hadproved unsuccessful, with withdrawal from some South East Asian markets andmajor writedowns of joint venture investments such as the $2.

7bn Reachundersea cable with Hong Kong-based PCCW.

Satellites Satellites are used to providetelecommunications services in very remote areas.

These are primarily theOptus satellites C1 D1 and D2.

There are also a number of satelliteearth stations, which provide access points into the Australian networks:Intelsat has 10 earth stations, 4 on the Indian Ocean and 6 on the Pacific Ocean.

Inmarsat has 2 earth stations, which serve the Indian and Pacific Oceanregions.

SingTel Optus Earth Stations has severalearth stations located in the major cities.

Submarine cables Australia is linked to the world byseveral fibre-optic cables: Southern Cross Cables to New Zealand,Hawaii and the US mainland with a capacity of 620Gbit/s, with plannedupgrade in Q2 2012.

Southern Cross Cables to Fiji, Hawaiiand the US mainland with a capacity of 620Gbit/s, with planned upgrade in theQ2 2012.

Australia-Japan Cable to Guam and Japan.

Primarily used as an alternative path to the United States with a capacity of320Gbit/s.

Sea-Me-We3 to Indonesia and onto Asia,Middle East, the United States and other destinations with a capacity of40Gbit/s.

APNG2 to Papua New Guinea with acapacity of 2x565Mbit/s.

Jasaraus to Indonesia with a capacity of5Gbit/s.

Gondwana-1 to New Caledonia.

TASMAN-2 to New Zealand.

PPC-1 to Guam with lit capacity of80Gbit/s, and potential capacity of 2.


Telstra Endeavour to Hawaii with a capacity of 320Gbit/s.

Internet and Broadband National Broadband Network References.

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