The election date is set. It’s pistols at dawn on August 21 as voters decide on who they want in the next Federal Government. The spotlight will inevitably be on the new Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her arch nemesis, Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott.
We've been asking ISPs what they want out of the upcoming election. After all, some of the biggest technology and communications issues affect them and their subscribers.
There is the touchy subject of Internet filtering. Highly contentious, extremely unpopular and still very much alive despite a bit of a hiccup, the current Government has delayed the full implementation till next year. But that hasn’t stopped Telstra, Optus and iPrimus committing to a voluntary scaled down ‘child porn URL filter’.
Then there is the ambitious National Broadband Network (NBN); the Coalition has pledged to bin if it is elected as the preferred Government. There’s also the possibility of a Telstra structural separation – that is, splitting the telco’s wholesale and retail arms.
In the past, we've talked to at Telstra, Optus and iPrimus. Now it is the turn of:
The structural separation of Telstra was a priority to iiNet and the outcome of this election is crucial in determining that.
This week, Shadow Communications Minister, Tony Smith, confirmed the Coalition will not push for the separation of Telstra as stipulated in Labor’s proposed telecommunications reforms legislation.
But the bill was not passed before the election was called and it is now void until it is re-introduced into Parliament post-election should Labor win.
The NBN, it its current $43 billion iteration, will also be scrapped under the Coalition in favour of a $6 billion wireless heavy plan.
So the bottom line is simple: The Coalition’s plans haven’t inspired a lot of hope in iiNet and the ISP questions whether or not the Opposition really understand the problems facing the telco space.
“We’d like to see the industry restructured and the current government has certainly started the process with the NBN,” iiNet chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, said. “We’d like to see the [telco reform bill] reinstated after the election.”
NBN, as a wholesale only network, further put pressure on Telstra dominance in the industry.
“We support the NBN not because we want the government to spend $43 billion but because the need to upgrade the national infrastructure is clear,” Dalby said. “Telstra has been saying for years it has not being maintaining the copper network so we need to move into a new infrastructure – a fibre-based one – and we need structural separation in order level the playing field and bring consumers competitive offerings.”
But it’s not all about splitting up Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms. Through legislation, iiNet wants the ACCC to have more bite when it comes to policing anti-competitive behaviour in the telco space.
“The ACCC is left with legislation that was put in on the basis that Telstra would cooperate – a poor assumption made back in the 90s,” Dalby said. “And the ACCC has had to live with limitations ever since.”
Dalby refers specifically to the ability for Telstra to lodge undertakings which can suspend any access disputes by other telcos against the company, such as complaints about ULL prices.
This consumes time as Telstra can hold up disputes and can even withdraw undertakings later down the track, Dalby said.
“It’s these sorts of crazy regulatory rules that the ACCC has to deal with so there is no point criticising the watchdog for not dealing with things promptly as it is bound by regulation,” he said.
iiNet does not support Labor’s Internet filtering plans, so it waiting to see what will happen to that plan once the election is over.
The ISP is also still embroiled in a Federal Court case with the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) which has accused iiNet of authorising copyright infringements. It is going through an appeals process after initial proceedings resulted in the presiding judge ruling iiNet had done nothing wrong.
While the ISP is passionate about the case, the issue of whether ISPs have a responsibility in actively preventing copyright infringements on their networks shouldn’t be addressed in this election, according to Dalby.
“I don’t think there is a part for politicians to play until the process is completed,” he said.