Brave new world of broadband?

The seeds of the new internet are being sown right here in Australia, but it’s all dependent on an NBN.

After five days of parliamentary debate, draft laws that separate Telstra’s retail and wholesale arms have finally passed the Senate.

The bill, which allows the telco giant to take part in the federal government’s $36 billion national broadband network (NBN), must now go back to the lower house, where it is expected to be approved next week in its newly amended form.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described the NBN as the holy grail of micro-economic reform.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Photo: Nic Walker

Senator Conroy said an immediate benefit of the passage of the legislation was likely to be a reduction in access disputes.

He said the NBN was rolling out 6000 kilometres of cable across regional Australia, opening access to 400,000 Australians and allowing real retail competition in more than 100 towns and cities.

“These new changes will absolutely end the gaming that has gone on – 152 access disputes in this sector alone,” he said.

Senator Conroy said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) could now act immediately to end rip-offs.

“You will see an almost immediate change in behaviour by companies as they realise they can’t use the legal system, the competition system, to behave in the way we have seen in the past,” he said.


Spontaneous applause led by Labor staffers broke out when the legislation was passed by 30 votes to 28 today.

The Coalition made a number of last-ditch attempts at delaying the vote but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Following the vote, Senator Conroy said reform of the telecommunications sector was overdue.

“This legislation is the holy grail of micro-economic reform in this sector,” he told reporters.

“For Australian consumers, this reform has been a long time coming.”

The government secured the bill’s passage with the support of all seven crossbench senators: five Australian Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon.

Senator Fielding declared the draft laws’ imminent passage through Parliament a historic moment.

“History will show that the Liberal and National parties were on the wrong side of the debate,” he said.

However, Liberal senator Simon Birmingham criticised the government and crossbench for not scrutinising the NBN more.

“It is a … phenomenally huge amount of the money the government is committing to the NBN,” he said.

“And it is committing it with no knowledge whatsoever as to whether it is the best way to deliver fast, affordable broadband services to all Australians, at the lowest cost to taxpayers in a manner that promotes competition in the Australian telecommunications sector.”

To get the bill passed before Parliament rose for the long summer break, the Senate was forced to sit into the night yesterday, and return again this morning to deal with more than 100 proposed amendments to it.

No opposition amendments were supported, but a number of changes proposed by the Greens and Senator Xenophon, regarding increased transparency, were accepted.

They must now be formally approved by the lower house on Monday before the Telecommunication Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 can become law.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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