Government backs down on NBN bill

No changes to rules governing NBN line-of-business restrictions

The government has gutted a telecommunications bill that would make significant changes to NBN legislation in the face of opposition from the telco industry, Labor and the Greens.

The decision to remove a significant portion of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Access Regime and NBN Companies) Bill 2015 comes despite a Coalition-dominated committee endorsing the proposed legislation in a report published only last week.

A government amendment removes controversial measures in the bill, including measures that would relax NBN’s non-discrimination provisions.

The government said changes to non-discrimination provisions were intended to make it easier for NBN to test innovative new technologies for the National Broadband Network.

If a retail service provider wants to test a new technology or service on the network, NBN is currently required to offer the same opportunity to other RSPs — the bill would have remove this requirement for trials and pilots.

Also gone from the bill are moves to allow the government-owned company’s line-of-business restrictions to be varied through government-made regulation.

NBN is subject to stringent restrictions on its activities. Under the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 NBN is restricted to supplying communications services to carriers and service providers (with a handful of exceptions).

NBN can’t supply communications services to households or supply any content services, non-communications services, and goods that aren’t linked to delivering network access to RSPs.

The government indicated that the intention wasn’t to move the company away from being a wholesale network access provider but to deal with potential future developments that may require some changes to these restrictions.

In objecting to this part of the bill, telcos warned of the potential for mission creep.

Also gone from the bill are measures relating to varying the Special Access Undertaking NBN has lodged with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the ACCC’s treatment of NBN wholesale pricing.

The Competitive Carriers’ Coalition said in a statement that it welcomed the government’s decision to “withdraw the most contentious parts” of the bill.

“The withdrawn elements would have threatened the development of a competitive level playing field once the NBN replaces Telstra’s monopoly network,” the CCC statement said.

“Communications minister Mitch Fifield should be commended for acting decisively to respond to industry concerns.

“The Labor opposition, Greens and independents ensured a thorough review of the amendments, allowing the industry to bring to light its concerns.”

The CCC said it supports the remaining elements of the bill.

The backdown comes as the government is assailed over the contents of a leaked document revealing the state of NBN's fibre to the node rollout.

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