Energy supplier Vector and three new partners are making an aggressive play for the small business broadband market in Auckland's central business district.

WorldxChange, MaxNet and BizOnline have signed up to use Vector's fibre-optic network in Auckland and are launching competitive broadband and phone offers.

The move is being promoted as an opportunity for small to medium-sized businesses to "cut the cord" with Telecom.

Vector Communications spokesman Chris Green said packages start from about $550 a month and include voice-via-the internet service, free local calls, cheap toll calls, high-speed uncapped broadband of up to one gigabits a second, and 100 gigabytes of free online backup.

A typical business with five separate phone lines would each month spend about $150 on internet and $500 to $600 on voice, including local calls.

"If small businesses come across to us now they can come and be on a far better internet service. They will be getting a complete enterprise voice service from the companies, free local calls, cheaper tolls, and all for the same money," said Green.

There is a perception among small business that only large corporates can connect up to broadband fibre networks, but it's not true, he said.

"A lot of businesses in New Zealand haven't figured out what that fibre is worth to them. They just think all they need to do is see a few emails and browse a few internet sites. Small business should think about how broadband of this quality could transform their business."

Vector's fibre network covers 500km around Auckland, predominantly around the CBD, North Shore and Manukau. The network is connected to most buildings in the CBD.

Unlike Telecom, there are no copper lines going from the exchange to the premises or from the road-side cabinet to the premises.

"For anybody in the CBD, your fibre is pretty much going into your building. It's right outside your door."

Vector is extending the network by 300km and Vodafone will be the first commercial customer to access the extension.

Green said the offers were a real opportunity for small businesses to cut the cord with Telecom.

Vector Communications general manager Maxine Elliot said it started to build the network in the central business district in 2000.

Vector already had ducting in the ground for electricity networks.

"It was just about leveraging that opportunity. When Vector purchased United Networks, it had a network on the North Shore, and joining them together it became Vector Communications."

"We have the ability to leverage the assets we have, and our electricity network needs fibre to manage it, so that's an added benefit for ourselves, and that's enabled us to keep growing the network."

Elliot said Vector has no plans for the residential broadband market, but would continue to explore options. Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman said the Vector move was yet more evidence of the excitement in the market as a result of the policy changes.

"We are seeing serious attractive offers coming into the market daily, and the fundamentals of the market have been absolutely changed and it's very good news for everyone."

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NEW YORK -- Goodbye, broadband over power lines. We hardly knew you.

Once touted as a possible third option for home broadband that could compete with phone and cable companies, the idea of providing Internet service over power lines now looks like it has died in infancy.

A Texas utility company said last week that it is taking control of the equipment that was to be used in the largest planned U.S. deployment of broadband over power lines, or BPL _ and won't be using it to provide Internet service.

Oncor Electric Delivery Co., the Dallas-based distribution arm of former TXU Corp., said it will buy the network from BPL technology provider Current Group LLC of Germantown, Md.

The network was to offer Internet service to 2 million electricity customers through their wall outlets. Instead, Oncor will use the data capabilities of the network to monitor the electric grid.

"Our business is delivering electricity, not being an Internet provider or a television provider," said Oncor spokesman Chris Schein.

Other BPL trials have met with similar fates, though a few are still in operation. Compared to coaxial cables and copper phone lines, power lines are poor conduits for data. Some deployments also met fierce legal resistance from ham radio operators, who found that BPL created radio interference.

The Federal Communications Commission was a booster of BPL. FCC commissioner _ now chairman _ Kevin Martin said in 2004 that the technology had the potential to become an Internet solution "throughout the United States."

Yet the FCC found only 4,776 BPL subscribers in the country at the end of 2006, the latest figures it has published.

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The promise of a national network delivering high-speed broadband services to 98 per cent of Australians is a key element of next week's federal budget.

The Rudd government has signalled a tough anti-inflation budget that will also honour Labor's election promises.

One such promise was to build a $4.7 billion high-speed national broadband network (NBN) - one of the budget's biggest funding allocations for a single project.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the widespread availability and affordability of first-class broadband services is a first-order priority.

"Australians should have access to the best infrastructure and services possible in order to maximise the potential benefits from the transition to the digital economy," he told the Sydney Institute this week.

"Connectivity should be available to all Australians irrespective of where they choose to live or work.

"And the affordability of services, including for disadvantaged members of our society, is a critical element of the equation, and an important policy focus for government."

Senator Conroy says the NBN will rival the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme in terms of scale and significance.

But the federal opposition has been highly critical of the NBN project, arguing it's years from completion and ignores the broadband needs of rural, regional and remote Australia.

Meanwhile, five days out from his government's first budget, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd unveiled a $100 million investment in training Queensland doctors.

It is just the tip of the federal health spending to be revealed next Tuesday night.

Former coalition treasurer Peter Costello allocated $51.8 billion to health and aged care in his twelfth and final budget last year.

Labor successor, Wayne Swan, has warned his inaugural budget will be peppered with spending cuts to curb inflation.

But peak doctors' group the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for health to be spared.

Some 3,750 extra public hospital beds, incentives for doctors to go bush and more funding to train nurses are just a few items on the wish lists of medical lobby groups.

The government has already promised $360 million over three years to reimburse families receiving Tax Benefit A to cover half the cost of annual dental checkups for teenagers.

Following the release of an audit into the "dire" state of rural health, the government announced $6.3 million for extra clinical schools in the bush, as well a new rural health office.

Some $87 million to fund $6,000 bonuses to encourage nurses back into the workforce will form part of the budget, as well as $92 million for indigenous child and maternal health services.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon has promised a big chunk of the estimated $2 billion of extra revenue will be spent on a national preventative health strategy.

AMA president Rosanna Capolingua told AAP the Rudd government had made the right signals, especially on preventative and indigenous health.

But now is the time for US dollars, she said.

"The commitments are there. We now need to see the translation into the doing. There is no doubt about that," Dr Capolingua said.

"We are ready for the action now."

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