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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2933

Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (10:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2010 amends the Telecommunications Act 1997 to provide a legislative framework for the installation of optical fibre and fibre-ready telecommunications infrastructure in new developments in Australia.

On 7 April 2009 the Australian government announced its historic decision to establish a new company to build and operate a new superfast National Broadband Network. The NBN has an objective of connecting up to 90 per cent of all Australian homes, schools and workplaces with fibre based broadband services and connecting other premises in Australia with next generation wireless and satellite broadband services.

At the same time the government announced the NBN, it indicated it would progress legislative changes that would facilitate the rollout of fibre networks, including requiring greenfields developments to use fibre-to-the-premises technology from 1 July 2010.

As the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has stated, ‘It doesn’t make sense for most new houses to be fitted with old copper technology, particularly when it is easier to put fibre or fibre-ready technology in when they are first built’.

High-speed broadband is becoming a critical utility service, almost as important as water, electricity and gas. The government wants to see people in new estates getting access to superfast broadband as soon as possible.

Installing fibre or fibre-ready facilities in new developments will facilitate the provision of superfast broadband to new property buyers as soon as practicable and provide ready access to the fibre based online world of the future, in line with the growing expectations of Australians.

The available evidence suggests that the extra costs of installing fibre instead of copper are relatively low, comparable or even lower than those for the installation of other utilities and fibre is expected to add value to new properties. The available evidence also indicates that it is easier and cheaper to put fibre or fibre-ready technology in when homes are first built.

The government has taken a consultative approach to the development and implementation of this policy.

In May 2009, the government released a consultation paper, in response to which it received over 80 submissions. It has also held a large number of face-to-face meetings with stakeholders.

There is widespread support for the objective of the government’s policy, and there has been significant consultation around the implementation details.

In August 2009, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy announced the formation of a stakeholder reference group to discuss implementation issues, including the form of the Commonwealth’s legislation. The group has 29 formal members, including representatives of the development and construction industry, the telecommunications industry, consumers and all tiers of government.

In December 2009, the government released an exposure draft of the bill for public information and comment.

The bill being introduced today is a product of these extensive and detailed consultations.

Ours is a sensible, targeted and measured approach to implementing this policy. The legislation will allow the targeting of those estates where it is practicable to have fibre now, while ensuring others are ready to have fibre installed as soon as it is possible and cost-effective in the future.

The consultations have informed the government’s view that its legislative framework should provide for the installation of fibre-ready fixed line facilities—that is, passive infrastructure like trenches, conduits, and pits—in some developments to facilitate the easier and cheaper installation of optic fibre in the future.

The government is aware that the start date of 1 July 2010 for estates that receive planning approval is fast approaching. The government is therefore proposing a targeted and phased implementation of this policy. There are two limbs to this. First, where the immediate installation of optic fibre is not mandated there will, in most cases, be an obligation to install fibre-ready infrastructure. Secondly, the obligations in the bill will be triggered only if the planning approval process has reached a prescribed stage. The relevant stages of the planning process will be defined in subordinate legislation. The consultation process has assisted the government in better understanding this issue, and will continue to assist the government in developing the subordinate legislation.

In summary, the bill provides a legislative framework under which the minister can put in place detailed arrangements to have optical fibre and fibre-ready fixed line facilities installed in new ‘real estate development projects’.

Most of the framework is set out in item 10 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the bill.

Item 10 inserts a new part 20A into the Telecommunications Act. Part 20A provides for the minister to specify in subordinate legislation developments or classes of developments in which:

  • fixed lines which are installed to building lots and/or units must be optical fibre; and
  • fixed line facilities which are installed to building lots and/or units must be fibre-ready facilities.

The bill enables the minister to define what fibre-ready facilities are.

The bill makes extensive use of subordinate legislation. The subordinate legislation developed will be disallowable and subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. The use of subordinate legislation ensures requirements can be specified in sufficient detail and provides flexibility, particularly to allow for the targeting and phasing in of requirements. This provides scope for stakeholders to adjust to the requirements over time.

Criteria that will be set out in the subordinate legislation will determine whether the fibre connection or the fibre-ready requirement applies in a particular development. These criteria could be based on thresholds relating to the anticipated cost of installation of fibre and/or the size of developments.

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has indicated that the subordinate legislation needed to bring the framework into full operation will be developed in close consultation with the stakeholder reference group. It is his intention that the substantive approach to be taken in the subordinate legislation will be publicly released enabling parliamentary scrutiny when the bill is considered by a Senate committee and subsequently debated.

The bill will enable the minister to exempt specified conduct from any fibre or fibre-ready facilities requirements. This could allow, for example, the installation of copper lines in specified circumstances should this be appropriate.

The bill also enables the minister to set conditions in subordinate legislation to be met by both fibre and fibre-ready facilities. This allows for the application of specifications or standards, developed with input from industry, to these types of facilities. Such conditions would be directed at, for example, achieving NBN-consistent consumer experiences in new developments across Australia.

The bill also provides for a regime to facilitate third party access to fibre-ready facilities to be set out in regulations. This will ensure this passive infrastructure is readily accessible for the later rollout of optical fibre lines. Such a regime could be administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Failure to meet the fibre or fibre-ready requirements in the bill will be subject to civil penalty provisions under the Telecommunications Act. The enforcement regime will apply to both carriers and non-carriers, consistent with application of the act.

The bill provides for a number of new definitions to support the operation of part 20A. In relation to ‘real estate development projects’, the bill enables subordinate legislation to refine the definition of this term should it be needed.

In addition to proposed part 20A, the bill amends the industry codes and standards processes under part 6 of the act to make it easier for codes and standards to be made about optical fibre infrastructure and services where this is required.

On 2 July last year the Council of Australian Governments agreed to work cooperatively to facilitate the speedy rollout of the National Broadband Network, including in greenfield developments. Accordingly, the government is working with state and territory governments to encourage them to include complementary measures in their planning arrangements.

The government looks forward to the cooperation of state, territory and local governments as the planning and rollout of the National Broadband Network continues around the country.

The government is keen to provide stakeholders with clarity about the requirements for the provision of fibre and fibre-ready infrastructure in new developments. This bill provides the framework to deliver this certainty.

The bill envisages there will be a competitive market for the installation of fibre and fibre-ready facilities within new developments allowing developers to select from multiple fibre providers, including NBN Co. These providers will need to meet necessary standards and deliver consistent service outcomes.

It has always been envisaged that NBN Co could service new developments. However this is something that the company needs to consider in its ongoing planning. It is also something that the government will consider further in its detailed examination of the implementation study.

The cost recovery arrangements that may ultimately apply in greenfields will depend on the commercial arrangements that emerge between all relevant parties as fibre-to-the premises is deployed more widely.

The government envisages that fibre networks in new developments will operate on an open access basis, just like the NBN, and that wholesale services will be offered on an equivalent basis. There is scope for the ACCC under part XIC of the Trade Practices Act to declare access and regulate access pricing. The government is also prepared to look at more direct regulation in the future if required.

The government recognises that the future structure of the telecommunications sector is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is why we have separately introduced the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009.

Under the current regulatory arrangements, Telstra, as the universal service provider, has an ongoing obligation to provide access to standard telephone services in new developments, using either its own platform or that of another carrier. As the government has said previously, once the detailed operating arrangements for the NBN have been settled, the government will consider the broader range of issues associated with the delivery of universal access in an NBN environment.

To support the legislative framework, the government is working with stakeholders on related matters such as technical guidance, accreditation and certification and awareness raising.

The bill will help residents and businesses in new developments access the most up-to-date telecommunications services. It is a key complement to the government’s historic National Broadband Network. As such the bill will play an important role in helping us prepare Australian homes, workplaces, schools and other premises for the high-speed online digital world of today and the future.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr Southcott) adjourned.