update The Australian Labor Party today said it would reform Australia's telecommunications regulatory regime and invest AU$4.7 billion in a new national fibre broadband network if it won the coming federal election.
The funds would come from the government's AU$2 billion Communications Fund and the Future Fund's 17 percent stake in Telstra, a statement issued by Labor Leader Kevin Rudd, (pic) Shadow Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Shadow Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said.
The fibre network would be built in partnership with the private sector. There are currently two proposals to build such a network.
The first one mooted by Telstra was shelved last year following a breakdown in discussions between the telco and the national competition regulator over the terms under which the network would be built. A group of Telstra's major rivals known as the G9 and led by Optus is still finalising a second proposal.
"Neither proposal can proceed without regulatory reform," said Conroy in a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra today.
"Neither proposal can provide rural and regional Australians with access to a fibre to the node network without government investment. In this context, government leadership is needed. That's why today I announced that a Rudd Labor government will deliver the reforms necessary to deliver a national open access fibre to the node network."
Neither Telstra or the G9 have provided much details about their respective plans, but Conroy said a Labor government would force them to do so.
"In this regard, the parties would be required to publicise the scale of their investment and the technical specifications of their proposal," he said. "Labor would also ask parties making such investment proposals to specify the regulatory reforms necessary to facilitate such an investment."
Labor would kick off a competitive process to select a private sector proposal for the proposed fibre network.
Not open slather
However, Conroy said a Labor government would still require certain conditions to be met in the construction and operation of a new fibre broadband network, including mandated open access to bottleneck infrastructure, equivalent charges for such access for all parties, and an allowance for telcos to differentiate their products in the market through providing different technical advantages such as access speeds and quality of service.
Access prices for third-parties would be set at a level that would allow a commercial return to be made to the network builder.
"A Rudd Labor government would also call on those submitting such proposals to ensure that their proposal delivers access to broadband speeds of a minimum of 12Mbps to 98 percent of Australian homes and businesses," Conroy said.
Conroy said the new policy would see Labor withdraw its opposition to the Future Fund's further sell-down of its Telstra stake from 2008, subject to the approval of Labor's national conference next month.
While the Federal government immediately attacked Labor's new policy for taking money from the Future Fund, Conroy said Howard's team had "comprehensively bungled its responsibility" to facilitate the rollout of a fibre to the node network over the past two years.
"The Minister has had two years to resolve this debacle and it has comprehensively failed," he said. "These failures will have negative economic and social consequences for Australia unless we take action now ... The fibre to the node farce has gone on for long enough."