Is Senator Conroy’s broadband network a 'dog of a process'?

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The Liberal party believes Senator Stephen Conroy’s decision to extend the acceptance of proposals for the construction of a National Broadband Network is a ‘slight renovation’ and independent telecommunications analyst firm, Ovum, said it wasn’t surprising.

Shadow Communications Minister Senator Bruce Billson believes broadband Minister Stephen Conroy has been forced to finally acknowledge how ridiculous and unrealistic his 25 July deadline was for the acceptance of proposals for the construction of a National Broadband Network.

“Senator Conroy has extended the deadline by 12 weeks from the time proponents finally have access to important information regarding existing broadband network infrastructure,” he said.

“The bulk of this information is held by Telstra and without it other potential bidders are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to developing and costing credible proposals.”

While this is deeply embarrassing for Senator Conroy, it’s pleasing he has finally acknowledged how naïve it was for him to set a proposal deadline at a time he knew full well that proponents did not have access to all the information they needed, claimed Billson.

David Kennedy, Ovum research director, said the telecommunications research firm wasn’t surprised the Government is extending time for the tender process, because this is a very complex project.

“If anything, the Government has been pushing too hard to meet a political timetable. This is an important and complex decision, and shouldn't be rushed. This latest extension will improve the quality of bids and the competitiveness of the tender,” he said. “The Government should aim for the right result, not a quick result.”

According to Kennedy the extension must be kept in perspective. The network will take around four years to build, and it will be used for decades. A few extra weeks to ensure that the process is genuinely competitive are well worth any additional delay.

While Senator Billson shares Kennedy’s sentiments, he believes the ‘slight renovation’ to the NGN, does not change the fact that this remains 'a dog of a process' to pinch a term from the Minister himself.

“I have made it perfectly clear that I would not criticise the Minister for extending his deadlines, however, he should not stop there and needs to re-engineer this whole process, taking into account the thoughtful suggestions of the Opposition,” he said.

According to Billson, Senator Conroy needs to start with an expert panel, assign roles to the ACCC, Productivity Commission and Infrastructure Australia and ensure the regulatory framework, including access and pricing regimes are set in stone before this ends in a train wreck.

“I have made a submission to the Auditor General calling on him to fully examine this process and I understand his inquiry is underway,” he said. “Senator Conroy is obviously under intense pressure and is trying to modify his behaviour in a bid to add a veneer of credibility to his broadband muddle.”

Billson said the national and consumer interest needs to be high on Senator Conroy’s list, not self preservation and political interest.

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