Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s move to force greater scrutiny of the NBN seems to be gaining traction with an Independent and an NBN rebel group supporting his cause.
The Coalition is seizing the moment after the recent OECD report criticised the NBN’s monopoly status and questioned whether it is being rolled out in the most cost-effective way.
Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, focused on the positives of the OECD report, which stated the NBN has potential to bring significant benefits especially in productivity.
Last month, Turnbull introduced a private member’s bill which would force the NBN to undergo a cost-benefit analysis and let the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) assess the deal between NBN Co and Telstra under competition law.
The Federal Government has maintained a cost-benefit analysis is coming soon and the $11 billion deal to decommission Telstra’s copper network is vital for the NBN’s survival so it should be exempt from ACCC scrutiny which may take several years.
Turnbull has been working hard to rally support from the independents for his bill including NBN supporter, Tony Windsor, who was conducive to Labor’s win in this year's Federal Election.
“Well certainly we’re talking to the independents,” he said. “I’ve talked to Tony about it many times and indeed to all the independents; we’re in constant dialogue with them.”
South Australian independent, Nick Xenophon, has sided with Turnbull, conceding there is a need to take a closer look at the NBN.
“I am very wary of constraining competition and scrutiny by cutting the ACCC out of the process,” he told the SMH.
The Alliance for Affordable Broadband has released another open letter urging all Independents to support the private members bill.
The group previous wrote an open letter criticising the NBN's $43 billion pricetag and pushing for more wireless technologies to be used for the network.
In the letter the Alliance writes:
- Our view is that the Productivity Commission’s review should cover:
- The importance of affordability and accessibility to the overall growth in productivity (as highlighted in the FCC US Broadband Report found here: http://www.broadband.gov/)
- Whether the current proposed structure of NBN Co and the creation of a new infrastructure monopoly will be in the long terms interests of consumers
- Guidance and recommendations designed to ensure the future structure, products and services delivered by NBN Co are clearly defined and reduce the risk of mission creep resulting in the removal or reduction of competition in the Australian telecommunications market
- Detailed research on the demonstrated productivity benefits (or lack thereof) from existing FTTH deployments (for example of Korea and Singapore)
- A comparative analysis of the approach taken in other countries (including the UK and the USA) to the issue of a national broadband network and, where they differ, why
- The future technology requirements of mass market consumers versus business, health, education and government users, to enable the costs and benefits of each to be weighed separately and compared
- Placing a value on the cost of losses in innovation and competition as a result of the legislated monopoly and overbuild of the NBN, as well as in the last 4 years because of the overhang and uncertainty of the NBN proposal.
It claims, "policy of this magnitude which carries with it fundamental changes to the entire fabric of the national telecommunications landscape and re-creates a new government-owned monopoly requires Members of Parliament to ensure such a policy is the best policy for the future development of the country, and in particular the delivery of the most efficient investment by the Australian taxpayer. Past delays cannot justify panic or cut corners now. Mistakes we make in the design and/or policy settings for the proposed NBN, particularly in the areas of structure, affordability and accessibility, will not be easily fixed down the track and could be disastrous for our international competitiveness."
The alliance was formed by a number of ISPs and telco related companies including wireless operator, BigAir and wholesale ISP provider, Vocus Communications.
Turnbull maintains his bill will not delay the rollout of the NBN.