Opposition concerns on NBN Co Senate bills "carping": Labor

Opposition argues NBN Co Companies and Access Arrangement bills will lead to "mission creep"

The Coalition has claimed that two National Broadband Network (NBN) bills currently before the Senate will allow for the “mission creep” of the telecommunications infrastructure project.

Speaking in the Senate, SA Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham, said the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Access Arrangements) Bill 2011 in their current form would not keep on the government’s public statements about what the NBN would deliver.

“The government proclaims [the NBN] will be a wholesale-only network, yet [the bills] leave scope for mission creep in the NBN’s activities,” he said. “It leaves scope for the NBN to provide retail services in a number of different ways.”

Birmingham said the bills would allow for the NBN Co to extend services directly to utilities companies, port operators and road authorities effectively eliminating business opportunities for NBN retailers and other carriers.

“The bill does not specify in any clear language that NBN Co must limit its products to layer two services supplied to retailer service providers for the purpose of providing services to end users,” he said.

The same argument was recently made by Telstra which argued those wanting to deal directly with the NBN should be made to acquire a carrier licence.

The bills would result in insufficient parliamentary and public scrutiny, and oversight of the NBN Co, specifically noting the classification of the NBN Co as a private company rather than government body, thus exempting it from Freedom of Information laws, Birmingham said.

The Greens' amendment to [the NBN Co Companies Bill] has the effect of making exempt all documents that can be described as being ‘in relation to its commercial activities’,” he said. “Quite clearly, basically everything the NBN Co does can be defined as being in relation to its commercial activities.”

Birmingham also said that ‘Cherry picking’ provisions of the bills would limit private investment in the market and lower competition, and directly threaten current fibre network investments.

“[Carrier’s] profitability will be threatened, they will themselves have to undertake major structural changes to be able to continue to operate if this legislation passes,” he said.

Labor Senator, Doug Cameron, claimed the Coalition’s concerns amounted to “carping” and the running of a “big business line.”

“In my view [the issues raised by the Opposition] are carping, negative, minor criticisms about whether there is a wholesale-only approach to the NBN,” he said.

“The argument there will be mission creep; I have to say to you, I bet there are a lot of people who want the mission of the NBN to succeed and if that mission can be as wide as possible in delivering NBN access to the community, they’d be quite happy…”

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @tlohman

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