ATUG refreshes policy platform prior to federal election

Competition needs to thrive in the new era of super-fast broadband

In preparation for the forthcoming federal election, the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) has updated its policies for 2008 praising the major political parties for supporting ubiquitous broadband connectivity and protection for the competitive telco framework.

However, ATUG managing director, Rosemary Sinclair, said there is no point in a super-fast broadband network if prices are not competitive.

"End users understand clearly what happens when super-players dominate markets," Sinclair said.

"As we approach the election period, corporate members of ATUG are now reporting a return to the days when products were simply not offered, when prices were not negotiable, when service performance was unsatisfactory.

"Both parties will need to ensure that competition thrives in the new era of super-fast broadband. There is a concern that the 'need for speed' will overtake the commonsense of competition."

Sinclair said this danger comes from framing the debate as a public policy problem of investment when in fact the real problem is access to affordable, advanced communications services for all Australians wherever they are.

"Delivering on this promise in not easy task given the size of Australia's land mass and the size of our population. Nonetheless the expectation is there and policy levers have to be directed to meeting these needs.

"End users see technologies as fit for purpose tools and are keen to have access to fibre, advanced copper services, mobile broadband, fixed wireless broadband, satellite, broadband over powerline - any of the above because in real life situations all of these technologies can be fit for purpose."

The issue of ubiquitous connectivity will be considered in the Universal Service Obligation Review and the Regional Telecommunications Inquiry Review Committee process which are currently underway.

Sinclair said it is time to update ideas about Universal Service, specifically who has the obligation and where the funding comes from.

"It is also time to look again at adequacy of services to regional areas and to use end user needs identified in the Regional Review as the basis for allocating the $400 million from the Communications Fund," she said.

Sinclair said regulatory change is needed for effective open access and to support investment in network upgrades.

She said the fframework currently in place to protect end users interests has been put in place slowly over the last decade to deal with emerging problems - whether they be increasing line-rental costs, universal service availability, service connection and fault repair times or service reliability.

"These are targeted regulations designed to address specific problems. Telstra regards these protections as unfairly directed at them," Sinclair said.

"If there were effective competition in local fixed access services then the market would deliver timely, reliable services at competitive prices. Until the local fixed access market is competitive, these consumer protections need to stay. "

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