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Friday, 24 September 2010 11:05

Conroy on front foot on NBN, reforms


Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has rejoined the fray in the growing battle over broadband in Australia, telling the World Computer Congress in Brisbane that there are times when Government's have a responsibility to step in and shape the nation's future.

Fresh from a lightning visit to New York where he delivered a broadband report as a member of the UN Broadband Commission, Senator Conroy said governments had a recognised role as an enabler in large-scale broadband deployments.

He called for the Opposition to get out of the way of government's National Broadband Network project and for parliamentary colleagues to pass overdue telecommunications regulatory changes as a matter of priority, arguing the broadband investment and industry reforms would underpin economy-wide growth.

Quoting the Broadband Commission's report, he said "policy leadership and political willpower at the highest level are fundamental to promoting the deployment of broadband networks."

"The report argues that investments in broadband are simply too important to be allowed to become a casualty of bureaucratic rivalries or changing policy priorities," he said.

And with a nod to the growing chorus of calls for a cost-benefit analysis to be carried out before the Government proceeds with its $43 billion National Broadband Network, Senator Conroy points back the to the 500-page KPMG-McKinsey Implementation Study as having already  "confirmed that the NBN can be built on a financially viable basis, with affordable prices for consumers."

He told the congress the Government would press ahead with the telecommunications reforms that have been stalled in the parliament since last year, and which he says will deliver more competition, better services and stronger consumer safeguards - as well as providing regulatory and market certainty to Telstra shareholders.

"Earlier this week David Thodey, the CEO of Telstra, expressed frustration about the delays with this Bill and I share them," he said.

"The legislation includes important reforms that will benefit consumers and I call on my parliamentary colleagues to come on board and get this Bill though as soon as possible."

The legislation also underpins the Heads of Agreement signed between the NBN Company and Telstra - a deal, if it is completed, that would open the way for a faster, cheaper and more efficient roll-out of the national fibre network.

"Most importantly, the Agreement paves the way for the structural separation of Telstra - the holy grail of telecommunications reform - after 20 years of policy failure by previous Labor and Coalition Governments," Senator Conroy said.

"This fundamental micro-economic reform will ensure Australia finally has a genuinely competitive telecommunications industry, which will deliver better services for all Australian households and businesses."

He said his additional new role as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity would help drive the Government to maximise the use of the NBN across all sectors, in the planning process rather than as an after thought.

"This role recognises that to get the full benefits of the National Broadband Network, government business cannot continue to operate in silos."

He said the Coalition's stated intention to "demolish" the NBN was extraordinary given its latest policy relies on "old, slow and inferior technology" and did not deliver reforms to consumers.


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