Australian telecoms reform legislation back for consideration

20 Oct 2010

Long-delayed legislation designed to enhance competition, force Australian fixed line incumbent Telstra to structurally separate, increase the powers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and provide a framework for the country’s upcoming National Broadband Network (NBN) has been reintroduced to parliament, Reuters is reporting. The legislative proposals have been raised in the lower house by Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese, with the politician claiming that the regulations would give Telstra more legislative certainty as the telco looks toward the split of its wholesale and retail operations. ‘This bill is an important step on the road to an improved telecommunications industry structure, with better competitive outcomes and stronger safeguards for consumers,’ Mr. Albanese told parliament. Telstra for its part has said that it supports the legislation although it has called for some amendments, and the telco’s CEO David Thodey said of the matter: ‘We believe the interests of Telstra shareholders would be best served by the bill being passed this year so that a definitive agreement on our involvement in the NBN can be reached quickly.’

Previous efforts to introduce similar legislation stumbled in parliament earlier this year amid a number of changes to the proposed laws, most notably in June 2010; at that date the Australian government amended regulatory reform legislation after Telstra announced it had reached a deal with NBN Co, the public-private company overseeing the construction of the country’s nationwide high speed broadband network. The original bill, known as the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009, eventually lapsed when Prime Minister Gillard called elections for 21 August 2010.

Passage of the new proposals looks to be far from smooth either however, with reports that the Opposition had announced its intention to support a private members bill aimed at forcing a business plan and cost-benefit analysis of the NBN which would require NBN Co to publish a ten-year business plan for the project. PM Gillard has urged parliamentary rivals though not to delay the reforms, stating: ‘Every day of delay for these reforms is another day of higher prices, less choice and fewer innovative services for consumers and small businesses, especially for those in regional Australia.’