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Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Page: 3593


Mr FALINSKI (Mackellar) (16:39): In today's modern world the provision of superfast broadband is a basic necessity. It's the foundation upon which virtually all sectors of the economy depend, from education to health care, aged care to social services, agriculture to high-tech manufacturing. It is the 21st century highway that will power our economy into the future. The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 will significantly improve the provision of superfast broadband across all sectors of the economy and for all users. Passage of these historic reforms will mean a more efficient telecommunications sector fostering greater competition and competitiveness. The package has three parts that all work in concert: introducing a legal guarantee that all people living in Australia will be able to access superfast broadband through the statutory infrastructure provider reforms, providing greater structural flexibility to network providers and small operators, improving competition and establishing the regional broadband scheme to secure an equitable and transparent funding mechanism to ensure the long-term viability of NBN Co's satellite and fixed wireless services for regional Australia.

The bill establishes a statutory infrastructure provider, or SIP, which is required to connect premises to a superfast broadband network, on reasonable request. This will require the SIP to supply wholesale services that retail service providers can then on-sell to consumers, ensuring access to superfast broadband and voice for all premises and consumers. NBN Co will be the default statutory infrastructure provider in areas as it rolls out the National Broadband Network, and for almost all of Australia once the NBN is complete. Other carriers, though, may be statutory infrastructure providers where appropriate—for example, where they have a contract to install infrastructure in a new development. The SIP regime will rectify an existing limitation in the current statement of expectations issued to NBN Co, whereby not all premises may be connected. This follows recommendations of the Productivity Commission in its review of the universal service obligation and will ensure consumer access to services through the SIP.

The benefits to consumers are significant, as there is now a statutory obligation to connect premises that may be difficult or expensive to service and to ensure these consumers are not left behind or ignored. The new rules set out baseline standards that require the SIP to provide wholesale services which support peak download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and peak upload speeds of at least five megabits per second. Importantly for many consumers, including older Australians, this requirement includes the need to support voice on fixed line and fixed wireless networks. Significantly, the bill also provides clear targets that reflect the current statement of expectations to ensure at least 90 per cent of premises in its fixed line footprint can receive peak download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second and peak upload speeds of at least 10 megabits per second.

Secondly, NBN Co's fixed line network must be capable of being connected to at least 92 per cent of premises in Australia. Finally, the bill allows the Minister for Communications to make for service providers rules dealing with consumer issues like the handballing of disputes between wholesale and retail providers. This will provide consumers with clear information on why any reasonable request for connection has been refused and by whom, enabling them to pursue redress with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Competition within the telecommunications market has always been somewhat of a holy grail, limited by a tight regulatory environment and natural barriers to entry. Ensuring market operators have the confidence to invest, while protecting consumers from monopolistic behaviour, is a challenge. This reform package contains significant measures to improve competition within the sector. The bill repeals part 7 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to improve the flexibility of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to regulate certain wholesale superfast internet services to promote competition. The existing separation rules are limiting investment in alternative superfast networks while at the same time allowing other carriers to operate substantial superfast networks that aren't subject to separation requirements.

The amendments make the default structural separation requirements clearer and more effective as a baseline for the industry. The bills will make the carrier separation rules for superfast residential networks more effective but also more flexible, giving operators of networks greater scope to invest in superfast networks and compete. Significantly, the changes mean networks servicing small businesses will no longer be subject to the separation rules, promoting competition and investment and thus encouraging entry of new networks into this market. The bill will also allow carriers to be functionally separated—that is, have both wholesale and retail businesses, subject to ACCC approval—thus promoting further investment with greater certainty for a return on investment. Finally, the bill allows the ACCC to exempt small start-up networks with up to 2,000 services from the separation rules in order to encourage entry into the market and the growth of new providers. These changes will significantly increase competition in the market by encouraging and stimulating investment by the private sector in new networks which cater to the needs of individual customers.

This bill appreciates the value of broadband services for all Australians. Accordingly, this bill establishes the regional broadband scheme, which will equitably share the cost of NBN Co's fixed wireless and satellite networks proportionally across NBN Co itself and comparable networks. It will ensure NBN Co and its competitors operate on a level playing field, each contributing to funding the fixed and wireless satellite networks in regional Australia, including asset renewal and replacement.

For regional and remote communities the value of reliable broadband services is paramount. In my electorate of Mackellar is the remote community of Cottage Point, which is home to 83 adults and 54 families. It's a community that includes a rural fire brigade, a marine rescue centre, a kiosk, a boatshed, the Kuring-gai Motor Yacht Club and Seawing Airways. It's a tourist destination attracting tens of thousands of tourists every year. Yet it does not have mobile service coverage and its only internet service is via an outdated, unreliable, eight megabit per second microwave link to Berowra, routing down to ADSL services around the community. It is downright dangerous that emergency services cannot be contacted directly when phone reception drops out again. Small businesses that depend on data and voice services for everything from bookings to EFTPOS have to continually put up with an incredibly slow service which often drops out for days on end. This is a community that contributes close to $3 million into the tax system every year. They have no public transport, water, sewerage, garbage collection, access to free-to-air television—I don't know why they are complaining about that!—and no kerbs and guttering. All they ask for is basic voice and data services so that their businesses can continue to operate.

This bill is evidence of the Turnbull government's continuing commitment to improving the provision of superfast broadband across metropolitan, regional, rural and remote Australia. The bill will make crucial amendments to the communications regulatory framework to ensure greater competition across both wholesale and retail sectors. By strengthening competition and improving market access for small and emerging providers, consumers are given more choice in choosing communication services that meet their needs. We on this side of the House don't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach where government decides what your needs are and how best to satisfy them. We believe that, by enabling private enterprise to take risks and provide a differentiation in market offerings, consumers are ultimately the winners because the consumer knows what's best for their family or their businesses. But where consumers' options for access to broadband services are limited due to their regional or remote location, this bill ensures they will have access, under the statutory infrastructure provider obligation, to those vital services—because we in the coalition understand that they matter irrespective of their location. I commend this bill.