The NSW Government is set to face off in the Federal Court with the Australian Government over the price of fair access to power poles for the National Broadband Network.
In a tit-for-tat battle, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy accused NSW of gouging consumers, while NSW Finance Minister Greg Pearce claimed taxpayers will be $400 million out of pocket if the NBN goes ahead.
“We have come down several times on price for accessing the poles and we simply will not go any further,” said Pearce in a statement.
“Dropping our price even more would mean we would be out of pocket and we simply cannot do this work for less than it costs, because if we do it could mean electricity consumers will have to pay the difference."
Conroy said NBN Co had reached agreements with other states in the vicinity of $30-40 per pole, while NSW is seeking around $140 per pole.
“Every other state and territory has finalised sensible commercial arrangements with NBN Co for access to power poles, but the NSW Government wants to charge almost six times as much,” said Conroy, in a statement.
“The truth is that the O’Farrell Government is trying to gouge Australian taxpayers, delay the NBN rollout and make it more expensive."
Federal sources told iTnews that NBN Co could use its federal powers to roll out the network over NSW poles, leaving the final cost in the hands of the Federal Court.
The Federal Government and NSW have a month to come to an amicable agreement. “If it goes to court, NSW will have to demonstrate how they came up with their price,” the source said.
Pearce indicated the NSW Government supported the notion of an NBN, but drew the line when it found NSW taxpayers would have to foot part of the bill.
“This is a Federal Labor Government policy and should be paid for by the Federal Government – not NSW electricity customers,” he said.
The areas immediately affected by the stoush include Gosford and Long Jetty on the NSW Central Coast, and Lidcombe, in Sydney’s west.
According to NBN Co, approximately a quarter of the total NBN roll out will be constructed using overhead fibre.
NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley said the new fibre technology was less obtrusive than existing hybrid-fibre cable (HFC) networks used for internet access and pay-TV.
“Putting fibre on power poles brings in more money for NSW, not less,” said Quigley, in a statement.
“NSW will not be left short changed," he added. “If we cause financial loss or damage to a utility’s property, then under the Act we’re obliged to provide them with a reasonable amount of compensation."
Edited at 4.45pm to add Mike Quigley's comments.