Expert advocates new regulator for NBN

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Expert advocates new regulator for NBN

One of Australia's pre-eminent telecommunications experts today recommended the Federal Government consider forming a new regulator charged exclusively with arbitrating access issues for the proposed National Broadband Network.

ATUG Director Dr Robert Green today fronted the Senate Select Committee hearing into the proposed National Broadband Network to argue that in their current forms, neither the competition watchdog ACCC nor the telecoms regulator ACMA will be able to adequately regulate the rollout of an NBN.

"A mediator is required to ensure interconnection issues don't hamper the NBN," he said at the public hearing in Sydney.

"This mediator needs the legal authority to issue a quick resolution to any access problems."

The recommendation came as Optus, Primus, iiNet and others detailed the difficulties inherent in gaining access to Telstra exchanges.

Dr Green said Telstra only moves to equip a customer if it thinks its retail division will profit.

It is subsequently easier as a broadband customer to "buy ADSL from Telstra BigPond and have it switched to a competitor within a few weeks" than it is to sign up to ADSL services with one of Telstra's competitors directly, he said.

A new fit-for-purpose regulator is required, he said, now that the owner of Australia's copper network is no longer in the running to build the NBN.

But Senators at the hearing appeared to baulk at the idea of another regulator.

Liberal Senator Nick Minchin asked if this regulator should mediate (seek a mutually agreeable decision), arbitrate (make a final decision when one can't be agreed upon by the parties involved) or enforce the law.

Dr Green wasn't able to provide such specifics.

Fellow Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher cautioned that a regulator charged with all three tasks might "present constitutional issues."

Dr Green replied that the ACCC's charter is cross-industry and not fit for the purpose.

"A more likely place is as a subset of ACMA or as a standalone entity," or perhaps a combination of both, Dr Green said.

Dr Green said the new regulator, which for argument sake might be named 'NBN Australia', should employ technically gifted inspectors to work "at the coal face" and solve issues on the ground at the exchange "in a timely and fair manner."

Rules developed by such a regulator should be made "a condition of license" for operators, he said.

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