Give us time to make NBN decision, says Government

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Give us time to make NBN decision, says Government

Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy won’t be coerced into fast-tracking a decision on the NBN, more or less telling delegates of the ATUG conference in Sydney today to give the Government the time required to make the right decision.

Speculation has increased substantially in the last couple of weeks as the Government's "ambition" of making an announcement by the end of March draws closer.

But Conroy today appeared to rule out putting an end to the speculation by providing a firmer announcement date.

"You will be aware of much speculation in the media on the possible timing and outcomes of the NBN process," Conroy told delegates.

"As I have said consistently, we have an ambition to make an announcement by the end of March and, contingent on the complexity of the considerations, this remains the case.

Conroy said the Government stands 100 per cent behind its election commitment to deliver the NBN.

"The National Broadband Network will be one of the largest infrastructure investments undertaken by any Australian Government.

"It is therefore imperative and only right that the Government give this decision the full attention, scrutiny and care that it deserves."

A jovial Conroy said he enjoys the daily commentaries in the news speculating as to who will win the NBN or indeed whether it will proceed at all.

"There are still some non-believers," he said. "I assure you it is anything but a dead parrot."

Conroy concluded that he hoped that by next year's ATUG conference he "wouldn't be talking about the NBN" but the applications being developed for it.

"If [the industry] has the confidence the network will deliver this speed at this cost, we will be discussing what fabulous applications will be available."

The Federal Opposition will certainly be keeping an eye on Conroy's progress.

Immediately following Conroy's address, Liberal party Senator Simon Birmingham listed a few other promises Conroy has made to past ATUG conferences.

At last year's ATUG conference, he notes, Conroy said that the Government "intends to have an NBN build partner in place" to begin constructing the NBN by the close of 2008.

While in the shadow ministry, Birmingham said Conroy also told an ATUG delegation that the ALP had "fully costed" an NBN at $8 billion.

Conroy had also told an ATUG breakfast whilst a shadow minister that the NBN process would be "open and transparent" - in stark contrast to the 'probity'-protected process that has eventuated.

In 15 months since the ALP was elected, Birmingham said, the Government has not hit a single deadline in the NBN process.

Rather than services coming online to rural and regional Australia under the now-cancelled OPEL scheme by mid-2009, Birmingham said, the NBN process has only "held up and delayed investment in broadband."

"And the heavy lifting is still ahead of them," he said.

Regulatory changes required
Conroy used his keynote at the ATUG conference to talk up, among other things, potentially "substantial and complex changes to existing regulatory arrangements" to implement further recommendations from the Glasson report.

These recommendations include the creation of a customer service standard (CSS) to replace the existing universal service obligation (USO) legislation.

The CSS would cover voice, broadband, mobile phone and payphone services.

But both the report and the Government acknowledge that planning for implementation of some of CSS and other Glasson recommendations can only start once an outcome to the NBN process is known.

"The Government will revisit a number of recommendations that relate to the National Broadband Network once the outcome of the current process is finalised," Conroy said.

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