The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has refused to rule out legislating access to Telstra's conduits and ducts to facilitate underground deployment of fibre for the national broadband network.
In Senate debates yesterday over the issue of underground versus aerial cabling, the department's minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, said the Government "wants the [cable] rollout to be as unobtrusive as possible". It would also consider commercially negotiated access to open the pipes to outsiders.
The Government has made public its discussions with the Australian Local Government Association to amend council planning processes to prevent them becoming a bottleneck to fibre deployment.
But the department was tight-lipped over its plans to negate a potential second bottleneck to the national rollout - access to Telstra's ground facilities.
"Where necessary to facilitate the rollout of fibre optics, the Government is prepared to amend the existing carrier powers and immunities," Senator Conroy said.
"The Government will consult stakeholders on legislative changes and will give due consideration to community sensitivities."
It is unclear whether the amendments mean legislating access to Telstra's ground assets.
If so, it could add spice to the department's discussions with new Telstra chief David Thodey over a deal on selling assets into the NBN in return for equity, a process known as "vending".
A negotiated access arrangement would return more money to Telstra shareholders than a legislated approach, which would see the telco receive little compensation.
When asked by iTnews to clarify proposed amendments to "carrier powers", a department spokesman referred to the regulatory reforms submissions process.
"We received more than 120 submissions to the regulatory discussion and these are under consideration by the Government," the spokesman said.
A submission from consultant Ross Kelso called on the Government to strike a deal with Telstra to lay the NBN cables in its conduits.
He said the aerial rollout was too risky to guarantee broadband uptime but that was dismissed by industry insiders.