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Bill set to deliver better choice and services for broadband customers

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The Hon Julia Gillard, MP

20 October 2010

Joint release with

Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Bill set to deliver better choice and services for broadband consumers

People across Australia will be able to access cheaper and faster broadband services if a landmark telecommunications Bill is passed.

Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said it is crucial the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 is passed so that Australians can benefit from better broadband services.

The legislation will allow for the structural separation of Telstra's retail wing from the rest of the company.

This important Bill is being reintroduced into Parliament today after it was blocked in the Senate by Opposition filibustering before the election.

Ms Gillard and Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy today said the Liberals and Nationals must support this legislation if they are serious about improving competition in the telecommunications market and delivering better services for their constituents.

Every day of delay for these reforms is another day of higher prices, less choice and fewer innovative services for consumers and small businesses - especially for those in regional Australia.

The Bill is an important micro-economic reform that will revolutionise the communications market for Australian consumers. It will set the stage for greater competition and productivity.

The Bill has been amended following a Heads of Agreement reached between NBN Co and Telstra in June this year.

The changes provide the necessary legislative framework to support the Agreement and give regulatory certainty to Telstra and its shareholders.

The Agreement also allows NBN Co to access Telstra's pits, ducts and other infrastructure, which will lead to a more efficient and cost effective rollout of the NBN. This will help cut billions of dollars from the cost of rolling out the NBN.

Australia currently has the 5th most expensive broadband charges amongst OECD countries. This Bill will help to bring prices down by allowing greater competition.

Consistent with the reforms announced last year, the purpose of the Bill remains to:

• restructure the telecommunications market to promote greater competition and consumer benefits;

• strengthen the telecommunications-specific access regime to provide more certain and quicker outcomes for telecommunications companies;

• treamline the anti-competitive conduct regime by removing procedural impediments that in the past have restricted the effective operation of the telecommunications-specific competition regime; and

• strengthen consumer safeguard measures such as the Universal Service Obligation and the Customer Service Guarantee.

Importantly, the Bill provides certainly for shareholder by setting out a framework for Telstra to seek approval from its shareholders on a proposal for it to migrate its fixed-line services to the NBN.

Other important measures in the Bill that provide greater certainty for Telstra include:

• authorising certain conduct of Telstra and NBN Co, under the trade practices law, that is required to promote the structural reform of the telecommunications industry and deliver benefits to consumers;

• allowing Telstra to acquire the spectrum it needs to provide advanced wireless broadband services unless the Minister determines in a legislative instrument otherwise;

giving priority to a genuine structural separation process for Telstra over functional separation.