Rabu, 17 November 2010

Threat to Future of Internet Network

Lenore Taylor - KEY independents are considering backing Coalition moves for tougher scrutiny of the government's controversial $43 billion national broadband network after the OECD criticised the concept of a publicly owned monopoly on wholesale internet services.

The opposition spokesman on broadband, Malcolm Turnbull, has proposed amendments that would knock out the government's plan to exempt the crucial deal between NBN and Telstra from the normal safeguards of competition law.

Mr Turnbull says the deal, setting up NBN as a monopoly wholesale provider and ruling out competition from existing copper and cable networks, will push up household internet prices.

The independent senator Nick Xenophon said he agreed there was a need for ''safeguards to make sure that consumers don't pay higher prices and retailers aren't dealt with unfairly because we are bypassing normal competition principles''.

''I am very wary of constraining competition and scrutiny by cutting the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission out of the process,'' he said.

The Broadband Minister, Stephen Conroy, has dismissed the criticism from the Coalition and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, saying a yet-to-be released business case for the plan ''confirms that the NBN project is financially viable and will deliver cheap and affordable broadband''.
The legislation enforcing the deal between Telstra and the government-owned NBN was debated in the House of Representatives last night and will be voted on today.

Senator Xenophon said he was searching for a way to increase scrutiny without delaying the roll-out, particularly in regional areas.

The government has argued that sidelining the ACCC is crucial to prevent delays caused by legal appeals and to allow Telstra shareholders to vote on the agreement. ''If we want the Telstra shareholders to be able to vote with certainty we don't need two or three years of appeals after the fact,'' Senator Conroy said.

Telstra has warned that without the competition law exemption the entire deal would collapse. The fierce debate over the broadband policy came as the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, used the start of the last parliamentary sittings for the year to fight Coalition claims that her government had ''lost its way'' and could not get anything done.

She accused the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, of showing ''all of the political maturity of a two-year-old'' and of relying on ''three-word slogans'' instead of policy analysis.

Mr Turnbull has introduced a private member's bill to refer the NBN deal to the Productivity Commission for analysis.

Yesterday a group of smaller communications providers wrote an open letter to all the independents urging them to support the referral to the commission. The Alliance for Affordable Broadband said the study would ''not delay any of the benefits of the NBN but it will guarantee the right decision is made and those benefits are actually achieved at the right cost''.

The government has rejected the idea of another inquiry but Senator Xenophon said he would urge his ''lower house independent colleagues to support it also, if we can make sure it does not delay the NBN roll-out''.

The Family First senator Steve Fielding said he was talking to the opposition about the amendments. The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said he was alarmed Mr Turnbull's amendments had been produced at the 11th hour and for that reason the lower house Green Adam Bandt had opposed them. But the Greens would ''consider them on their merit'' in the Senate.

The OECD said the NBN could quickly improve internet services but the proposed structure could hamper the development of ''as yet unknown superior technological developments''.

Sumber : sydney morning herald

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