Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017

9 May 2018, Federation Chamber 

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Transcript

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (18:23): Labor created the NBN. Labor put forward a visionary plan to make sure that Australia could come into the 21st century—commence the 21st century, really—with a proper broadband network that would provide the high-speed internet connectivity across our entire country that Australians deserved and required to be able to participate in the global economy and the global information superhighway, as we used to call it in the 1990s. But, unfortunately, under the period of this government we've seen that plan ripped up, destroyed, mangled, bastardised and changed, such that it is now almost completely unrecognisable from that which Labor put forward so many years ago. That is really quite sad, because it could have been so good. But instead it has been terrible—quite frankly, terrible.

But there is something to be said for these bills, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017, and the need for them. The bills are intended to promote competition, to improve access to broadband services for all Australians—especially those in regional, rural and remote areas. This will be done through a few key measures. There will be the introduction of a funding mechanism for regional broadband services, which will help underwrite the costs of NBN Co providing broadband services into regional areas, particularly through fixed wireless and satellite networks. There will be the introduction of a statutory infrastructure provider regime and amendments to the super-fast network rules to clarify the wholesale-only rules applying to high-speed broadband networks. This is because the NBN was established as a wholesale-only structure. It was separated from the retailers so that we could have competition over the top of the wholesale broadband network. It's interesting to think back. If the Howard government hadn't gone on to sell the network that stood behind Telstra, in the first place, we wouldn't have had to create a whole new network to try and ensure that Australians have a broadband network.

As I mentioned at the outset, Labor's plan for the NBN in 2009 was designed to provide all Australians with access to high-speed broadband across the country. It would have seen 93 per cent of Australian homes having access to fibre to the premises, the superior NBN technology. The remainder would have had combined fixed wireless and satellite. This technology had the power to drive innovation, commerce and connectivity. In fact, it had the power to drive the things that we haven't even thought of today. What we have consistently heard from this government is how NBN will provide, under the government's plans, a sufficiency of connectivity and speeds to deliver on four people watching Netflix. That's great. But four people won't be watching Netflix in 20 years time. If you think about the longevity of the copper network that we've had up to this point, it seems a bit crazy to design a network that will only provide connectivity for now as opposed to 50 years time.

Critically, this bill will introduce a new statutory infrastructure provider regime, which will provide industry and consumers with certainty that all premises in Australia will have access to infrastructure that supports the delivery of these super-fast broadband services. The arrangements will require NBN Co to connect premises to its network and supply the wholesale broadband services of phone and internet services. During the rollout of NBN, NBN Co will have these obligations in all areas where it's supplying carriage services. After the rollout is complete, NBN will become the default statutory infrastructure provider. In some new developments it may be the case that other carriers will be able to fulfil this role—for example, where a carrier is the sole provider of infrastructure in a new development. The obligation also provides wholesale access to broadband infrastructure for retail service providers so they can service their retail customers.

In good news for consumers, one primary obligation of the SIP will be to offer a wholesale broadband service supporting peak speeds of at least 25 megabits download and five megabits upload, regardless of location. This will ensure that all Australians, regardless of where they live, will be able to order a high-speed broadband service. The SIPs must also supply wholesale services to retail providers that can be used to support voice calls on fixed line and fixed wireless. This is a welcome development for consumers, industries and all stakeholders in this area.

I now want to turn my attention to the service class 0 issue. Under Labor, all new homes and greenfield estates in the fixed-line footprint would have been connected with optical fibre. Yet under the coalition the multitechnology mess has seen the NBN become one of the largest global buyers of copper wire in the world, using an outdated technology and one that is becoming more and more expensive to use. This bill does nothing to reduce the chaos of the coalition's NBN network rollout, and it does nothing to address the lack of transparency and accountability for consumers and businesses who find themselves declared a service class 0.

A number of my constituents will be aware of this term. It's when your area comes into the NBN, like a large section of the electorate of Burt, but, for whatever reason—usually poor copper-wire service connections or being slightly too far from the pit or some other part of the network design—a premises is unable to connect to the network. You usually don't know that you are a service-class-0 home or business until your ADSL connection has been switched off and you have made multiple attempts to get your home connected. This is because, of course, according to all of the maps that you might look at, you should be in an area that can be connected to the NBN.

NBN Co and the providers are rarely able to tell these residents when this situation will be resolved. Service class 0 premises comes into existence when NBN Co has unilaterally made an operational decision that it would too resource intensive or time consuming to connect a particular home to the NBN when the NBN is rolled out in that area. The occupier of the premises, whether they be a home or a business, are left behind without certainty as the NBN moves on to its rollout in the next area. The consumer is not proactively informed; nor are they given a time frame in which they can expect to be connected. This leaves consumers angry and confused about the complete lack of transparency or any certainty. The number of service class 0 premises has now exploded to nearly 300,000 homes and businesses. It is estimated that this number may go as high as half-a-million premises, meaning roughly one in 10 consumers will be affected. These consumers include homes, businesses, churches, not-for-profit organisations and schools—all at a time when we're trying to promote STEM education and the use of technology.

The government needs to take a transparent and responsible approach to this. Labor has introduced an amendment that would provide scope for the government to direct NBN Co to connect particular premises during rollout where the company refuses to do so for these operational reasons. It would require them to proactively notify households if their connection is expected to be delayed for long periods. This is something that the government really should have done long ago. It is completely unfair that the government leaves these people stranded without any hope of connection, or waiting an indefinite period of time. I've had constituents approach me and my office about this very issue, saying that they have bought in an area that is on the NBN Co map and are looking forward to getting the NBN, because it is rolled out in that area of my electorate of Burt. They are setting up a small home business and then finding, lo and behold, that the NBN actually stops about 200 metres from their home on that street. Thanks very much; that's really helpful, government! In 2013 Malcolm Turnbull said:

We will complete the NBN, we will ensure all Australians have very fast broadband and we will do it sooner, cheaper and hence more affordably than the Labor government can.

He planned on doing this by scrapping the full fibre-to-the-premises broadband rollout and instead upgrading and repurposing existing infrastructure—that would be that old copper network that's nearly 100 years old in some places. While the coalition's multi-technology mix—or multi-technology mess, as it's usually referred to—was promoted as being able to deliver faster and cheaper broadband, for many customers this has proved to be not the case at all. It is a second-rate network. Quite frankly, if you had left the rollout of the telegraph to this government, we would have been lucky to get that. They would've told us that the carrier pigeon would be sufficient.

We are now where we are. Instead of taking fibre to 93 per cent of the population, the coalition NBN will take fibre to 17 per cent of the population. Consumer complaints are soaring, with a 2015-16 report from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman saying that there had been a 150 per cent increase in complaints about NBN faults. It would appear that getting NBN service is not exactly the most fun experience for people who are supposed to be getting a superior service by moving their internet connection to the NBN. Indeed, many of the people who live in my community have raised with me and my office this concern: 'I have moved to the NBN and it's slower; can I go back?' There is no going back from here, unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen; the government has saddled us with this problem for a very long time to come.

Let's look at the reforms being proposed. One of the aspects of this package is to promote competition by levelling the playing field. Australian taxpayers have made a significant investment in NBN, and seemingly a growing one. It's important that regulatory settings ensure that there is a level playing field, so that the value of that investment is not unfairly undermined. Current network rules require a fixed-line network servicing residential and small business customers to supply a wholesale bitstream service to access-seekers and operators on a wholesale-only basis—that is, there needs to be a structural separation between retailers and wholesalers. There are a number of exceptions to these rules, such as high-speed networks built prior to 2011. The key changes to the rules are that the bill will remove regulation of networks servicing small business customers, which will enable these providers to benefit from greater competition in the market. They will allow the ACCC to exempt small start-up networks, operators of fewer than 2,000 residential customers on fixed-line networks. These reforms would also effectively allow network carriers, other than Telstra and NBN, to be vertically integrated—that is, to operate both wholesale and retail businesses on a functionally separated basis, subject, of course, to ACCC approval.

Finally, all services supplied on wholesale-only and functionally separated networks will be subject to clear non-discrimination obligations. The obligation for NBN to provide broadband in areas that would otherwise not be commercial to service is unique to NBN and is not shared by its fixed-line broadband competitors. Consumers will expect that companies seeking to provide high-speed broadband are subject to the same regulatory requirements as NBN to ensure that there is competitive neutrality. So this bill introduces an amendment to provide greater certainty about these arrangements, and scope and flexibility, where the ACCC decides that it's appropriate, and Labor supports these measures to ensure that this occurs.

In relation to that, I think it is important that we have some time to reflect upon some of the issues that we saw upon the rollout of ADSL in the first place. For my sins, I was working in the internet industry at the time when ADSL was introduced. Of course, we had the situation where Telstra, having control of all of the exchanges—being a wholesale provider and a retail provider of ADSL connectivity—was also required to maintain some degree of functional separation of its networks so that retailers could buy a wholesale service off Telstra. I'm pretty sure if you go and ask some of the providers from that time—iiNet would be a classic example—they would say that there were definitely some holes in the way in which that operated. I hope that some of the issues that arose at that time, nearly 20 years ago now, have been addressed by the way in which it is proposed the rules be amended by this bill, and going forward, to ensure we don't have same issues arise again and that we do have a proper, competitive space in this field. With all that, Labor does support the measures in the bill but, at the end of the day, it doesn't change the fact that, really, the NBN is a complete 'fraudband' network.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Gee ): I thank the member. Before I call the next speaker, I would just point out to those who may be watching or listening outside the parliament that we do have an issue with the electronic clock this evening, so we are manually time-keeping. We're doing it old school this afternoon. Each speaker will have 15 minutes, and we'll do our best to alert speakers when their time is expiring.