Wednesday, April 08, 2009

National Broadband Network Plan

In the initial excitement of the Australian Government's decision to scrap the previous National Broadband Network (NBN) tender process, some of the subtleties of the new plan may not have been noticed. The new plan is to establish a majority government owned company, to build a network over eight years and operate it. Other aspects of the new plan appear to be very similar to the policy of the previous government, including lavish funding of projects in Tasmania and an emphasis on 'black spots' in major regional and rural areas.

Legislation for requiring fibre optic technology in green fields developments may be difficult for the federal government to implement as planning is a state responsibility. There may be a need for the federal government to provide some incentives to state governments and private developers to encourage them to do this. The NSW Minister for Planning is talking on "Planning in New South Wales - Responding to the Global Economic Crisis" at the University of Sydney, this evening. This might be the opportunity to investigate how the new federal policy could help NSW land planning.

The most significant and effective part of the new policy may be the last part mentioned in the announcement and given least emphasis, which is the changes needed to the telecommunications regulatory regime. Changes to regulations could make it easier for carriers to share infrastructure and also force them to do so, where that is in the public interest. This may do more to provide broadband widely and at a reasonable cost, than any other part of the new policy. The consultative process on the proposed changes will be interesting.

The Regulatory Reform will consider options for:

  • streamlining current regulatory processes, by allowing the ACCC to set up-front access terms for companies wanting access to Telstra and other networks;
  • strengthening the powers of the ACCC to tackle anti-competitive conduct by allowing it to impose binding rule of conduct when issuing competition notices;
  • promoting greater competition across the industry, including through measures to better address Telstra's vertical and horizontal integration, such as functional separation;
  • addressing competition and investment issues arising from cross-ownership of fixed-line and cable networks, and telecommunications and media assets;
  • improving universal access arrangements for telephony and payphones; and
  • introducing more effective rules, requiring telephone companies to make connections and repairs within set time-frames.
From: Regulatory Reform for 21st Century Broadband, Joint media release, PRIME MINISTER, TREASURER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE, MINISTER FOR BROADBAND, Document ID: 110057, 7 April 2009

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