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Lawyers wired over NBN legislation

Lawyers wired over NBN legislation

Draft legislation that enables the government to target Telstra's government and enterprise business with its new national broadband network has lawyers, and Telstra itself, wired.

DRAFT legislation that enables the government to target Telstra’s government and enterprise business with its new national broadband network has lawyers, and Telstra itself, wired up.

The Opposition’s efforts to halt Senate discussions on the legislation was voted down today. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy opposed the Opposition’s calls to delay debate, saying it only wanted to “delay, obfuscate and obstruct”.

Debate on the proposed bill has already been delayed twice, once in November and again in February. But another debate continues to rage amongst lawyers, who claim the legislation could force Telstra’s hand on giving up its wholesale supply business.

Brisbane technology expert Michael Morris, head of Hopgood Ganim’s intellectual property and technology team, said the latest bills state that the NBN Company, which will own and operate the NBN network, is to be wholesale only and open access to maximise competition.

But, Morris said, the bills give the Communications Minister the discretion to allow the NBN Company to supply retail services to end users including government agencies.

Morris said Telstra can now decide to compete with the NBN Company, or cooperate with it by selling the wholesale arm of its business. He added that the two would have different ideas on what the government should pay to acquire Telstra’s wholesale business.

“As Telstra derives much of its business from supplying services to government departments, it may now be forced to sell the wholesale arm of its business at a less than favourable price, or risk losing its government retail work to the NBN Company”, he said.

“Telstra is one of the most integrated telecommunication companies in the world, as it owns the fixed line copper network in Australia that connects every premise and business, including Telstra’s competitors.

“Telstra’s combined wholesale and retail structure has, for years, created issues between Telstra and its competitors, as they are forced to negotiate wholesale access to Telstra’s network.” Morris said.

“The power granted to the Communications Minister is a fundamental shift from one of the original purposes of the legislation - to establish a “wholesale only company” that will change the telecommunications landscape by eliminating the conflict of interest that currently exists. If the NBN Company can compete on a retail level, then arguably this goal is no longer met”.

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Lawyers wired over NBN legislation
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