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.

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, IT Employment, Telstra

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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