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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 3754

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (9:10 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Access Arrangements) Bill 2010, the NBN access bill, accompanies the National Broadband Network Companies Bill which just had its second reading. Together, the two bills form a package to promote competition and better telecommunications services for all Australians.

The NBN access bill will establish clear open access, equivalence and transparency requirements for NBN Co. Ltd. It will also extend supply and open access obligations to owners of other superfast networks that are rolled out or upgraded after the introduction of this bill to parliament.

The bill establishes rules for the supply of services by NBN Co. Ltd. All of NBN Co. Ltd’s services will be declared services under the Trade Practices Act 1974, and subject to enforcement under that act. The bill also establishes a new category of standard access obligations for NBN Co. Ltd. These obligations are designed to guarantee three things:

  • the supply of declared services to access seekers;
  • interconnection of facilities to the NBN; and
  • access to conditional access customer equipment, as needed, to providers of retail telecommunications services.

The bill provides as a general rule that NBN Co. Ltd must not discriminate between access seekers. However, consistent with commercial and efficiency considerations, NBN Co. Ltd will be permitted to negotiate with individual access seekers to vary standard terms and conditions, but only under clearly specified criteria and subject to ACCC oversight. Different terms will be permitted in relation to the creditworthiness of an access seeker, consistent with current trade practice law. Different terms will also be permitted on grounds or circumstances as specified by the ACCC. Finally, NBN Co. Ltd may offer different terms to access seekers where this aids efficiency, and allows access seekers in like circumstances to have an equal opportunity to benefit from any variations.

The concept of differentiation that aids efficiency already exists under part IIIA of the Trade Practices Act. It recognises that a blanket requirement to offer equal treatment to all access seekers can lead to inefficient outcomes. For example, some service providers may want to make changes to standard services to reflect their existing products and processes, and being required to re-engineer these could be both costly and disruptive.

Submissions on the draft bill called for clearer definition of conduct that aids efficiency. The bill therefore requires the ACCC to publish guidance material on allowable discrimination, to provide greater certainty for industry.

If NBN Co. Ltd can offer different terms from those set out in published offers, it follows that access seekers need to know what variations to standard terms are available, to judge whether they are in like circumstances and able to receive those varied terms. To address this, NBN Co. Ltd must supply the ACCC with clear information on the deal within seven days of entering into an agreement that contains different terms. This information must be provided in writing in a form approved by the ACCC. The ACCC must publish this information, redacting commercial-in-confidence information as necessary, and maintain a register of NBN access agreement statements on its website.

Submissions on the draft bill expressed concern that NBN Co. Ltd could offer volume discounts that would favour the largest carriers and service providers. The bill does not prohibit volume discounts that aid efficiency, but restricts NBN Co. Ltd from offering a volume discount unless it is in accordance with the terms and conditions it has set out in a special access undertaking which has been approved by the ACCC. This will ensure that available volume discounts are in the long-term interests of end users.

Finally, the bill makes specific arrangements for carriers who build or upgrade certain fixed-line superfast access networks after the introduction of this bill to parliament. Carriers must offer a layer 2 bitstream service over such infrastructure and will be subject to access, non-discrimination and transparency obligations in relation to that service, based on those applying to NBN Co. Ltd. These requirements will commence on proclamation or otherwise 12 months from royal assent, giving industry time to adjust. These arrangements do not apply to point-to-point services to government and corporate users.

Provision is also made to simplify the making of industry codes and standards for fibre infrastructure and services. Once in place, these codes and standards will ensure new fibre networks are built consistent with the technical specifications for the National Broadband Network.

These amendments have been included to ensure that end users have access to the same high-quality superfast broadband services, regardless of the network provider, and to promote a level regulatory playing field for the telecommunications industry.

The NBN access bill, together with the NBN companies bill which it supports, demonstrates this government’s commitment to structural reform of the telecommunications market, and to ensuring that the NBN meets the government’s key objectives that NBN Co. Ltd operate on a wholesale-only basis and offer open and equivalent access. By doing so, the NBN will provide a platform for vibrant retail-level competition that will bring better services for all Australians.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Laming) adjourned.