Keep the NBN in public hands: iiNet

ISP joins Greens in calling for NBN Co to be kept in public hands

iiNet has joined Optus in expressing support for the Greens’ call for NBN Co to be kept in public hands, rather than sold off five years after its completion.

After Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, again stated his desire to keep NBN Co in public hands at the Australian Computer Society’s (ACS) ICT Policy Forum held directly after the Opposition’s broadband policy’s unveiling yesterday, iiNet chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, said the idea was preferable to a private monopoly.

“The thing I took out of the Greens’ comments which are broadly supportive of the NBN, was that they would retain [NBN Co] in government hands because of the structural issue and the pain the industry has been through over the last 15 years,” Dalby said.

“The ACCC has struggled to do anything about it. [The Greens] say 'let’s not go back to that, let’s keep it in public hands', so when we have a public policy issue we can make sure it gets delivered. When we want to call someone in to question, we can drag them in front of a Senate inquiry and they will be forced to give answers. If it is in private hands, you are expecting cooperation and reasonable behaviour and we have seen that really doesn’t sit well with private enterprise who are pursuing their own private shareholder interests.”

Dalby said the industry’s experience over the past 15 years with Telstra having entrenched market dominance should not be repeated.

“A monopoly in government hands that provides equal access to the whole community is much preferable to me than a monopoly in private hands that is going to be used to exploit a market advantage for a small subset of the community, which is the shareholders of that company,” he said.

Ludlum had previously claimed a large fraction of the non-Telstra industry on board with the idea.

The Australian Greens have traditionally championed the notion of keeping NBN Co a public company, with Ludlam arguing that privatisation would mean accountability measures for the company are lost.

The Competitive Carriers Coalition (CCC) and Optus have also voiced support against privatisation, with the telco worried wholesaling pricing could spiral out of control without a wholesale price cap enforced on NBN Co by the ACCC.

Further, contrary to Opposition claims as part of its broadband policy launch that NBN Co would be replicating existing infrastructure, the company has said it would avoid building over existing fibre and may purchase existing assets – a strategy Dalby supports.

“I think the migration of some of those assets into the public domain is desirable,” he said. “If that means buying them off Telstra, buying them off AAPT or buying them off Optus, that large capacity fibre asset and moving it into someone like NBN Co who will offer it broadly to the market to any comers on equal terms is a reasonable thing to do. I don’t have a problem with that.

“To me that is what $11 billion deal with Telstra is all about: Moving some of those critical assets into NBN Co so they can be made available to the whole market rather than just reserved for Telstra’s special use.”

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