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Minister tells Telstra that draft 'local presence plan' is not specific enough; shadow minister wants it to meet more criteria; Telstra complains the conditions are unfair.

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Tuesday 7 March 2006

Minister tells Telstra that draft 'local presence plan' is not specific enough; shadow minister wants it to meet more criteria; Telstra complains the c onditions are unfair


MARK COLVIN: Telstra has been sent home to do more work on its plans for telecommunications services to the bush. 


The Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan says Telstra's draft plan isn't detailed enough. She wants a better on
e written up by next month. 


It's got Telstra complaining again that the bush requirements are a drag on its business, which its competitors don't have. 


Stephen Skinner reports. 


STEPHEN SKINNER: Telstra is always a political hot potato, and so it was today when Senator Helen Coonan declared she was unhappy with the company's pledges for providing better services for rural and regional Australia in the future. 


Senator Coonan has told Telstra to re-do its Local Presence Plan. 


HELEN COONAN: Well it wasn't specific enough to meet the ministerial guidance and directions that I'd given Telstra, where I want some specific commitments for the future for things like the number of Telstra shops in rural areas, the number of Telstra field centres, and some of those specific matters to give people comfort that these services won't be removed.  


They're already largely provided by Telstra Countrywide, and the plan is all about giving people comfort that these services will remain. 


STEPHEN SKINNER: Shadow Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, agrees that Telstra's draft plan isn't good enough, adding the Government should have rejected it when it first arrived in December.  


Senator Conroy wants specific, legally binding commitments. 


STEPHEN CONROY: Well Telstra should be made to come back with a plan that delivers lower prices, improved services, and improved broadband accessibility and speed. That's what should be in the message that's being sent back to Telstra.  


STEPHEN SKINNER: Senator Coonan said Senator Conroy's concerns are answered by the Government's $3 billion Connecting Australia program and current price controls. 


HELEN COONAN: Improved broadband accessibility and speed is the subject of a $3 billion investment by this Government that's about to roll out to ensure that broadband is available equitably across rural and regional areas. So he's confusing that.  


He's confusing the pricing of services with what we have of course with price controls, that provides parity pricing right across Australia. 


STEPHEN SKINNER: Telstra Spokesman Warwick Ponder says planning for regional services is a tricky balancing act between flexibility, shareholder returns and technology. 


WARWICK PONDER: There may be some sticking points. We're yet to find out whether that may be the case or not. But certainly we do want to retain our flexibility and we certainly don't want to get into a situation where we are giving away too much of our shareholders' money. 


STEPHEN SKINNER: Warwick Ponder also says it isn't fair that Telstra has universal service obligations in rural and regional areas, but its city-based competitors don't have to have regional presence plans. 


WARWICK PONDER: I just think it's worth pointing out that our competitors in this space simply aren't subject to these sorts of rules and regulations, and it's an interesting environment in which we find ourselves in that if you asked SingTel, Optus, or any of the other major players out there what their regional presence plans were today, they simply would provide you with a blank sheet of paper. 


While Telstra is more than happy to cooperate with the Government, it does seem to be a little less than a balanced playing field. 


STEPHEN SKINNER: Senator Coonan says things aren't as simple as that. 


HELEN COONAN: I think it's important to remind listeners that the universal service obligation is in fact carried out by Telstra because it has a ubiquitous network and is able to provide these services, but it is subsidised to do so per market share by other telecommunication providers, so the current subsidy is in the order of about $70-million a year to Telstra from other providers. 


MARK COLVIN: Senator Helen Coonan ending Stephen Skinner's report.