Please explain: government held to ransom over FttN

Please explain: government held to ransom over FttN

Coalition creates sticking point over lax RFP

Bidders for the national fibre network will finally be able to design viable proposals after the opposition uses its senate majority to demand a revised Request for Proposal (RFP).

Shadow communications minister Bruce Billson doused fears that the opposition will block a crucial telecommunications bill to distribute sensitive network information, held by infrastructure owners such as Telstra and Optus, as part of the Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) project.

He said it will instead use its position to demand the government provide more details about its FttN plans, including regulation, wholesale access, architecture, and regional coverage.

"We won't oppose the bill but we will seek to canvas missing information [in the RFP]," Billson said.

"Conroy is blaming us for holding up the tender process, but we are his best asset because we are drawing out the big issues.

"The ridiculous time frames he set is making a difficult task impossible. The Minister should work cooperatively with us because the network is a national interest."

The bill will enter the Senate in mid-May and will build in privacy assurances to protect sensitive data on telecommunications infrastructure, required for FttN bidders to formulate proposals.

The FttN Request for Proposal (RFP) came under fire last week by members of the G9 consortium who said bidders cannot form serious proposals because the tender documents are devoid of adequate network requirements.

iiNet chief regulation officer Stephen Dalby said the government's failure to gather national network information has made the RFP obsolete and given Telstra an advantage because it owns most of the infrastructure.

"There's lot's of assurances saying 'she'll be right', but that's not good enough for a multi-billion dollar network that's going to be around for decades," Dalby said.

Billson said the government has not got enough bang-for-buck from the public-funded network.

"The recipient of the $4.7 billion [in government funds] should provide a structurally separated FttN network, to ensure equitable access to promote competition," he said.

The move may be a win-win situation for Conroy. The Minister can blame opposition stall tactics if earth had not been turned to lay fibre cables by the very ambitious October deadline, and be able to slip in the missing RFP details without admitting their absence.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde said the move is a good outcome because it will strengthen the RFP process.

"Conroy is faced with the problem of an extremely short time line to put in a massive fibre network," Budde said.

"The government would love to extend the RFP period and it may be convenient to blame delays on the opposition."

Let us know your thoughts on the NBN in this week's Vent It: Is the Govt rushing the NBN build?

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