November 24, 2010 / 4:05 AM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-Australia govt gets support for broadband plan

* Australian govt wins support for NBN-Telstra split laws

* PM Gillard releases report on NBN business plan

* NBN could be A$7 bln cheaper than thought

* Telstra shares outperform market

(adds details, byline)

By James Grubel

CANBERRA, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Australia’s government secured vital political support on Wednesday for its $35 billion National Broadband Network (NBN), putting it a step closer to finalising a $10.8 billion deal with telecoms firm Telstra (TLS.AX).

Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed to release the business plan for NBN — a demand she had resisted for weeks — shoring up support for a vote later this week on splitting Telstra’s retail and wholesale arms.

“This is a reform literally 30 years in the making,” Gillard told reporters on Wednesday.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, whose vote is crucial to pass the bill, said the release of the cost plans clears a key hurdle.

“With all this information, I believe I will be in a position to make an informed vote when this bill comes to a final vote,” said Xenophon, who added he would now vote for the legislation.

Telstra shares, which sank to an all-time low earlier this month, jumped on the news ending up 1.5 percent on Wednesday against a soft broader market. The shares have gained over 9 percent since hitting a low on Nov 18.

Gillard said the summary of the business plan found the network to be financially viable, and showed the NBN would have affordable prices for customers. Australia currently has a slow and expensive internet service by international standards.

The NBN summary said it expected to deliver a fibre network to 8.3 million of Australia’s 10.9 million homes, with 12 million homes and businesses to be passed by fibe or have access to wireless or satellite when the network is completed.

The cost of building the NBN would be lower than initially thought, at around A$35.7 billion ($34.73 billion) compared to previous estimates of up to A$43 billion, due to the involvement of Telstra in the network. Government equity would be worth A$27.1 billion.

The NBN summary said the company building and running the network, NBN Co, would begin to pay cash dividends in 2020 and would repay the government’s full investment by 2034.

Telstra’s deal with the NBN, which will allow the network to use Telstra’s fixed-line assets, has yet to be approved by Telstra shareholders.

Telstra will finalise details of the NBN deal after the competition regulator makes a ruling at the end of November on how internet retailers can plug into the new government-owned wholesale internet monopoly.

$1=A$1.02 Additional reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Ed Davies

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