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Sunday, 28 June 2009 09:48

NBN legislation facing months of delays

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The Government has tabled its first piece of legislation aimed at expediting the rollout of the National Broadband Network, only to have it referred to a Senate enquiry - a move likely to delay its passage by several months.

The bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures No 1) Bill 2009 would impose a requirement on telcos, power companies and any organisation owning ducts or other infrastructure likely to be of use in rolling out the NBN to make information on that infrastructure available to the NBN company.

In this regard, it is very similar to the legislation introduced during the RFP process for NBN mark 1. That legislation however was tightly constrained by the duration of the process, and it applied only to licensed telecommunications carriers.

The new legislation has come in for strong criticism from the Opposition, which claims that other departments consulted by the DBCDE have also raised issues.

Shadow communications minister, Nick Minchin, said: "It is extraordinary that the Government is planning to build a commercial wholesale only network in direct competition to existing providers and through the power of the Commonwealth, force its potential competitors to hand over information that might be of use in the development of its own network.

"I suspect that those carriers and utilities that have no interest in being involved in the Government's risky venture will meet this heavy-handed approach with some concern, particularly considering this network could operate in direct competition to them."

Minchin claimed that: "The minister's department consulted several other departments, including Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury, Infrastructure as well as the Federal Privacy Commissioner and a number of issues were raised including: likely industry concerns about the intrusiveness of a legislative approach; the need to consider further the provision of information to the NBN company, from a competitive neutrality perspective; the need to protect the confidentiality and security of information collected."

However the only party affected by the legislation to have commented publicly has done so in a neutral manner. The Energy Network Association (ENA) - the peak national body representing gas distribution and electricity network businesses - said: "Energy network infrastructure is critical infrastructure, and issues of commercial confidentiality will be key for ENA members. From a business point of view, the cost of collecting and providing information to inform the Australian Government and the NBN Company must be reasonable. ENA is currently reviewing the Bill and we look forward to sharing our members' views with departmental officials in the coming week."

During the first NBN RFP process, when communications minister, Stephen Conroy first flagged the idea of mandating access to network information the proposal was greeted with outrage from Telstra and other carriers. Concerns were expressed about information being used to gain competitive advantage in areas outside of the NBN bid and of information that could compromise national security getting into the wrong hands."

The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee for "Detailed consideration of scope of the requirements and the confidentiality protections and "to assess that privacy provisions are adequate, and that the powers conferred are commensurate with need." A "possible" reporting date of 28 October is given. Submissions are expected from telcos and utility companies and from civil rights lobby groups such as GetUp and Electronic Frontiers Australia.

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