Roxon rebuff strains national network ROI

Telco industry to lobby Rudd on key issues

Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon

Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has ignored calls from the telecommunications industry to integrate hospitals and healthcare networks into the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The industry's leading experts say government could lose millions unless disparate and costly fibre network contracts are integrated into the $43 billion NBN.

Roxon refused to attend a recent meeting with the Digital Economy Industry Workgroup, which includes experts from telecommunications, health and energy sectors, to discuss network exit plans for hospitals and other health agencies.

The workgroup, setup earlier this year, argues millions could be saved by allowing agencies to scrap existing network contracts and standardise on NBN services.

Telecommunications analyst and workgroup member Paul Budde said Roxon must address the issue within her department to ensure agencies are ready to move to the NBN as it is phased in.

"The minister has many pressing issues in health to address so she doesn't want to hear it now... but the risk that agencies will lose out is very real if she does not act," Budde told Computerworld at a Sydney telecommunications conference.

"Australia will fail in the envrionment of endless bureaucratic wrangling. The Prime Minister has to tell Roxon and the government departments to act... [Communications Minister] Stephen Conroy can't force the other ministers to listen."

e-Applications special interest group chairman Chris Worrad said the workgroup has already met with several cabinet ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and is arranging further discussions with government and telecommunications industry bodies to discuss how to ensure cooperation between government departments including health, education and energy which experts argue is critical to the success of the NBN.

Yet Roxon declined invitations to discuss the issue. The workgroup is using a members-only wiki to discuss technical and regulatory issues surrounding the NBN and to decide on which of these should be pushed to the Government Executive. While industry debates mot juste, it broadly agreed government must consider whether existing health and education networks should be annexed to the NBN by regulation, and how it will ensure open and equivocal access through the pending Communications Service Standard which will govern voice, broadband and payphone services.

An agency NBN annex could be similar to the supply of broadband to Victorian government agencies over the state-owned VicOne network. A manager of one ISP that provides networking services to the state department told conference delegates the arrangement ensures a high quality of service and pushes down costs: "Competition is tough because everyone is on the same network," he said.

Budde said the trans-sector cooperation required for the NBN is unprecedented.

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