Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has refined arrangements for the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout to greenfield sites but it has failed to calm the minds of greenfield fibre operators and new estate developers.
The refinement clarified the role of NBN Co and [[xref:http://www.arnnet.com.au/distributor_directory/vendor/923176985/telstra in new development areas|Conroy adds finer details to greenfield NBN rollout arrangements]] which was aimed to provide greater certainty to building developers and stakeholders.
The Housing Industry Association and Urban Development Institute of Australia, along with fibre operators, Opticomm and TransACT, were invited to a parliamentary hearing by the NBN Joint Committee on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011.
Under the bill, NBN Co would be the last resort fibre provider for developments with 100 premises or more while Telstra was to play the same role for developments with less than 100 premises.
Developers are required to incorporate pits and pipes to accommodate NBN fibre before NBN Co goes into lay down the fibre.
The new estate development industry groups were concerned about the lack of certainty on when exactly NBN Co would be able to go into premises and install the fibre. They are troubled by possible of NBN Co holding up construction timetables of greenfield estates.
According to Shadow Communications Minister and Committee member, Malcolm Turnbull, a number of building development organisations have suggested amendments to the bill which would allow developers to call in private fibre operators to set up a fibre infrastructure which comply with the NBN’s technical specification.
NBN Co could then acquire the fibre infrastructure at an agreed price which would be stipulated in the amendment. This has been presented as an alternative which would benefit developers
“That would be a pragmatic suggestion,” an Urban Development Institute representative told the parliamentary hearing.
For areas with less than 100 premises, there were also concerns over possible abuse of power by Telstra since the telco can choose to rollout interim copper, fibre or wireless solutions at its own discretion.
As for greenfield fibre operations such as OptiComm and TransACT, they argued NBN Co has presented itself as the “first resort” fibre provider as opposed to an option of last resort.
With the NBN Co offering developers free fibre installation so long as they were willing to wait, many private fibre operators have labelled this arrangement anti-competitive.
According to OptiComm, the bill doesn’t make it clear to greenfield developers that they have a choice in fibre provider since those developers have to decide very early on to use NBN Co or Telstra.
Pits and pipes infrastructure ownership will have to be signed over to either party.
OptiComm and TransACT also had an issue with the fact all pips and pipes as well as fibre infrastructure at a new site must meet the technical standards of the NBN.
The bill stipulates the Communications Minister is able to set the technical specifications for the NBN’s rollout for greenfield estates.
This deeply troubled both fibre operators. OptiComm CEO, Paul Price, said his company’s fibre rollout specification would be less costly than the one set by NBN said setting a standard for NBN fibre deployment should be done by an industry organisation such as Communications Alliance and not by the Minister.
“There is currently no CommsAlliance specification for pits and pipes so lacking that the bill defaults to the Minister to have that discretion to set those standards,” a TransACT representative said at the hearing. “What we are afraid of is the Minister will set NBN standards as the minimum specification which then makes it very anti-competitive and inflexible playing-field for us to play in.”
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) gave evidence at the hearing but would not respond to questions about possible amendments to the bill.
The parliamentary hearing concluded today.