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C&W Optus, Excite@Home Team for Australian Net Service

Cable & Wireless Optus and Excite@Home Thursday announced the two companies will partner to deliver high speed Internet services to Australian consumers using Optus' pay TV broadband cable network.

The joint venture firm, dubbed @Home Network Australia, will use the hybrid fibre coaxial cable (HFC) network which passes through 2.2 million Australian homes. Marketing itself as Optus@Home, the service will offer video on demand, CD-quality audio and online games services.

The Optus' broadband network is currently used for the OptusVision pay television service, which runs second to Foxtel with a subscriber base of 210,000 compared to Foxtel's 440,000, as well as consumer telephony, with customers numbering under 170,000.

The venture would further exploit its HFC network, which is growing by over 7,000 customers each week, said Chris Anderson, CEO of Cable & Wireless Optus.

Anderson called the venture "the culmination of a long held vision -- the delivery of telephony, video and high speed data via our broadband network."

Optus@Home will compete with the only broadband infrastructure in Australia, owned by Telstra, which is used to carry Foxtel and the Internet service Big Pond Cable.

Subscriber numbers for the Big Pond Cable service are reported to be as low as 10,000. Users are required to buy a Motorola cable modem for AUS$795 (US$525) and have relatively few sources of packaged broadband content. They are also charged for downloads from non-Telstra sources at AUS$0.19 (US$0.13) per megabyte.

A spokesperson from C&W Optus would not reveal the pricing of Optus@Home service.

The other unknown factor is the issue of localised content. Excite@Home has already entered into a joint venture with Australian Internet media startup LibertyOne to produce the Excite Asia Pacific portal, but the C&W Optus spokesman said any links with LibertyOne would not extend to delivery technologies.

"As I understand it, they've got a narrowband cable modem [project]. Ours is broadband, so there won't be any [deal]," the spokesperson said.

The announcement said the U.S.-sourced material from Excite@Home would be combined with "high quality Australian content", to be developed by @Home Network Australia, but no possible suppliers were identified.