Communications Minister Stephen Conroy seemed to throw water on industry fears today that divvying up the Tasmanian National Broadband Network might not involve a normal tendering process, saying contracts would definitely be put out to market.
Stephen Conroy at the ATUG Awards earlier this year
(Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet.com.au)
"There are actually trade agreements that require tender requirements," he said to the audience at an Australian Information Industry Association lunch today in Sydney. "So unless we're planning on breaking some international trade negotiations and agreements there will be tenders because it's a commonwealth and state procurement process, which both commonwealth and state have signed up to."
Aurora said back in April that requirements for goods and services would go to tender, yet despite a spokesperson for Conroy saying only a few weeks ago that the Tasmanian Government was confident the roll-out could begin in the short term, there has been no sign of one. With the "from July" timeline in mind, industry had begun to have doubts about whether any deals to be signed would be above board, believing that work might be passed out via a contract extension.
Sources pointed to the most likely candidate for such a move being Tasmania's $10 fibre-to-the-home TasCOLT project vendors. Yet persons involved with the state's previous fibre broadband efforts under TasCOLT have said they have not been privy to planning discussions for the state.
If, as Conroy said, a tender is held for the parties to be involved in a roll-out, previous industry comments placed a July start date as unlikely. Back in April, Juniper networks VP Shaun Page said that even if the tender was started then, it would be an aggressive timeline.
Today, at first Conroy hadn't wanted to answer queries on the delays, which might be caused by the tender, saying only that the government was in negotiations with Tasmania that were close to finalisation, with a memorandum of understanding already signed. "I'll promise you we'll put out a press release which will be able to identify some of those issues you've raised soon," he said. When pressed, however, he pointed out that a tender was a necessity if international rules were not to be broken, seemingly making the delays unavoidable.
The Federal Government has been in "very advanced negotiations" with Tasmania for almost a month. There have been reports of wrangling between the two governments over funding.
Conroy believed, however, that Tasmania's Premier David Bartlett was keen to get started. "He's an engineer. He's a geek. He gets it," he said.
The Tasmanian Government's original plan, which it submitted to the now defunct initial NBN fibre-to-the-node tender, had wanted to reach 44 per cent of Tasmanian homes, Conroy said, adding that the Federal Government wanted to take that up to 200,000 homes.
The global scene had also expressed interest in the project, he said, with international telecommunications companies registering their interest to set up research labs in Australia because of the planned network.
Also in his speech today, Conroy said he had received the list from executive recruitment firm Egon Zehnder outlining candidates for the NBNCo board and chairperson. He said as well that his department had been conducting discussions this week for the lead advisor for the NBN study.