Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010
Consideration in Detail
I think from the start we need to be very clear about what the legislative rationale is in these parts of the bill that the opposition is seeking to amend. What we are talking about here is the digital dividend—the liberalisation of the sweet spot of the radio communications spectrum, which has untold, unknown value. Importantly, we only have one chance to get it right. We have one chance to ensure that this spectrum is allocated in a way that will take us beyond the 21st century. If we get this wrong now, it means that we will simply perpetuate all the regulatory failures of the past and thereby simply ensure that they continue into the future to the detriment of consumers.
Rules in auction processes on who can bid for spectrum and in what amounts are not novel. The ACCC has long had a statutory involvement in that. Other countries who are doing their digital dividends right now have had rules on their spectrum management. Yes, the legislation does incentivise Telstra to take action on separation before precluding its ability to bid for long-term evolution spectrum. But, as the minister has said, this bill no longer has an automatic prohibition on the acquisition of spectrum if Telstra does not structurally separate and divest its interests in the Foxtel network. So the opposition’s amendment here is completely misguided. The strong incentive regulation element is still there. I query whether, if the opposition had their way on this point, they would permit Telstra to take its already significant market power in the customer access network and impose that on the 21st century networks that will be built, simply entrenching the already broken market structure rather than transforming it. The member for Wentworth talked about turning back the clock. What he is talking about here is perpetuating an existing regulatory failure and bringing it into the 21st century.
Even the chief technology officer of Telstra knows that spectrum cannot do what fibre can do. Spectrum will always be complementary, never a substitute. Until someone, as I said yesterday, finds something that is faster than the speed of light, you will get nothing better delivered than under fibre. It is simply something that spectrum will not be able to deliver, because it is a shared resource. The physics will tell you that it is a shared resource that will never be able to deliver what fibre can deliver. Once the backbone network is built, what then will need to be done is changing the electronics at each end. Once it is built, you will have the conduit for doing anything in the future—applications and services that have not even been invented yet.
On the issue of picking winners, I note that it is the opposition that is choosing to pick winners here by trying to give wireless and HFC a leg up. That is the great paradox of this debate. I will also say, as someone who has been talking to people in the industry for some time about this, that the industry welcomes the way that this bill has been structured so that broadband has been dealt with in a holistic way, not a hotchpotch of different parts of wi-fi and copper such as the coalition took to the last election and still has as its policy today. Rather, the government is choosing to address all technologies and issues to do with broadband. By dealing with these in a holistic way, we can structure a regulatory system that delivers a holistic solution to the issue of the lack of broadband accessibility in Australia.
The member for Wentworth talked about the digital divide, and we had this conversation yesterday. It is about affordability. The affordability problem arises because of the failures in the existing regulatory structure. Firstly, there has been a lack of infrastructure based competition. There is no denying that there has been no infrastructure, let alone infrastructure competition, in many parts of Australia—not only in rural and regional Australia but in metro parts of Australia too. In my own electorate, I receive calls, emails—well, not so much emails, because they would becoming very slowly—and representations from people in new greenfields estates who simply do not have broadband. They cannot access it. The only choice they have is probably some wireless mechanism which would cost them a great deal of money. They cannot understand why they cannot get the same treatment as everyone else.
The member for Wentworth talked about the NBN taking away the investment in greenfields. The NBN is the greenfields investment. It is the only investment that is going into greenfields. For those reasons, these parts of the amendments that have been put up should not be supported. (Time expired)