Are you getting what you voted for?

Are you getting what you voted for?

Summary: One of the real dangers of election season -- for politicians, at least -- is being held to their word.

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One of the real dangers of election season -- for politicians, at least -- is being held to their word.

Both sides wanted to be picked real bad, and both sides made some very expensive and significant promises. We all understand this and, as Prime Minister Rudd gets down to business, it's heartening to see him jumping from task to task in an effort to make good on his promises.

Kyoto, education, public hospitals -- sure, these are all great things to focus on during the new government's first 100 days. But if you're reading this, you're obviously online and if you're online, odds are that you may be using substandard, performance-limited broadband. Which begs one single, significant question:

Where's my fibre?

Now, I know it takes a while to roll out fibre to every node in the whole country. Heck, the Howard government had 11 years and couldn't seem to make it happen. But in his rush to hit the ground running, Mr Rudd seems to have brushed this element of his policy platform right to the background.

Didn't Labor, after all, have a clearly delineated plan to get fibre into every Australian's broadband diet? Wasn't it waving around the promise of AU$4 billion and change that it would use to buy votes, er, heaps of fibre-to-the-node equipment?

I know it hasn't been long since the election, but you'd think that a party that had made such a point out of its broadband plans would have something to say about its broadband rollout now that it's in office.

Unless, of course, somebody at Senator Conroy's office -- which is probably in a state of disarray as Helen Coonan's stuff is hastily thrown into boxes and out windows -- has misplaced that oversized cheque on which they will hand over the money straight to Telstra.

It is Telstra, after all, that is going to be building this new network, isn't it?

Telstra chief loudmouth Phil Burgess certainly seems to think so; barely giving Howard enough time to walk off the stage on which he faced his political death and Burgess was already throwing the first dirt on his coffin -- saying that Telstra's trucks are waiting, engines running, to start digging holes. All the new government has to do is say "go".

Earlier this year, I asked Phil Burgess several questions, one of which was whether Telstra would be more amenable to having a Labor government in power; he conveniently neglected to answer. But it's clear now, given the tenor of his comments, that Telstra and Labor have had some real heart-to-heart conversations about the "better" way to broadband Australia -- and Telstra seems to think it has Labor's endorsement to start building.

Call me a sceptic -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but this is all sounding a bit underhanded.

Does Labor really have the right to intimate to Telstra that it would be the sole recipient of the AU$4 billion honey pot? Does Telstra really believe it's the only telco in Australia that knows how to lay fibre? Will Labor set the scope of the new fibre rollout to avoid duplicating those parts of the OPEL consortium's network that involve laying fibre? And, most importantly, will Labor continue the Coalition's tradition of protecting consumers by forcing Telstra to provide wholesale access to its new fibre network?

I don't think so. If such controls were the case, Burgess wouldn't be so eager for Telstra to get rolling; Telstra has a long history of stonewalling where it could potentially be forced into terms it deems unacceptable for its business.

This all begs the question: if Labor has effectively promised AU$4 billion to help Telstra lay fibre across the country, and Labor isn't going to force Telstra to open that network -- or perhaps into a state of operational separation -- what kind of precedent does that set?

Will the Rudd Brigade manage its rollout with all appropriate controls, checks and balances, and threats of sanction for anti-competitive behaviour?

We'd certainly hope so. And if it does, Burgess might want to tell his truck drivers to turn off their engines and take a few months' holidays.

Doing this properly is going to take loads of planning; a fully transparent selection process in which much of the money may well go to companies other than Telstra; clear accountability for decisions made and timetables set; and clear delineation of the kind of regulatory regime Labor will enforce.

Anything less from Senator Conroy, and many people will start wondering just where all those election promises went.

Topics: Telcos, Government, Government AU, Telstra, IT Employment

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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Talkback

4 comments
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  • Can Senator Conroy do it?

    Only if he is the appointed Minister. The when may be a problem.

    If he or whoever gets the job, doesn't have a plan and the necessary legislation already drawn up, to separate the Telstra monopoly (&it is!) then we are in for a long wait. Nothing will change!

    To leave it to the bureaucrats will take for ever. They let the previous government get away with all the dithering and double speak with the inevitable result.....nothing happened.

    I hope he has a lot more nous than Ex Senator Coonan had! and also gives the ACCC the power to deal with Telstra's intransigence.

    If he hasn't & he doesn't, then we can say goodbye to any change or consumer cost relief.
    Telstra will continue to bleed as much money from the users as is humanly possible. If there is no real competition, which means a level playing field for all, Telcos & ISP's will be unable to effectively price their services below Telstra's gouging prices. They will also have to put up with ALL the delaying tactics from Telstra, both technically and administratively!

    I'm a pessimist. I doubt he or his new government understands what is necessary to extract us from the malaise we have had to put up with for the past decade.

    I hope my vote hasn't been wasted!
    Huntsman.ks
  • Everything except world peace

    Kevin Rudd has promised everything except world peace . . . or perhaps he did and I missed it. He has promised lower rates, lower unemployment, easier access to housing . . . and he has even taken fundamental responsibility for every hospital in Australia. Now, only those who believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny will believe he is going to deliver on the majority of those promises. And therein is the rubb . . . or Rudd. Which promises won't be delivered? My concern is that the promised broadband infrastructure will become one of those non-delivered promises. Excuse me, I need to run and get ready for the Tooth Fairy.
    anonymous
  • More sceptics!

    Great to see I'm not the only one questioning all of this. Thank goodness the Howard government had the good sense to put pen to paper on the Opel deal -- at least the government is committed to something! Telstra obviously thinks it may get some traction here, but of course history shows that Telstra only moves when it is to its advantage.

    Will Labor have the guts to stare down Telstra as the Coalition has been doing? Or will it give in and cede ground to Telstra so it can help Labor fulfil its broad election promises? No matter how it pans out, The evolving relationship between Labor and Telstra will be quite interesting to watch.
    anonymous
  • Not even a Code of Conduct

    You can get a sense of the reality of the situation by Rudd's inability to even release a simple Code of Conduct. He promised to release the CoC before the election, but never did so. CoC are hardly new; they've been written for decades. So, if he cannot even keep a promise to deliver something as simple as a CoC, how can anyone feel comfortable that he will deliver on his major election promises. As a person living in a rural area, the delivery of better Internet infrastructure is really important to me. What I want is to see it happen, not just hear hollow, undelivered words.
    anonymous