The federal government today said it was important that discussions between Telstra and the competition regulator continue, despite criticism of the telecommunications regulatory regime by the telco's chief executive.
Telstra has been in talks with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) regarding the terms under which the telco would build its national fibre broadband network, as well as the price under which rivals gain direct access to its existing national copper network.
"As I under stand it, Telstra and the ACCC are currently engaged in some discussion so I think it is important that those discussions continue and there is no indication that they won't," said Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan, speaking at a business lunch in Sydney today.
Chief executive Sol Trujillo today again accused the telecommunications regulatory regime of stifling the company's business and said the regime for the telecommunications market was "past its use-by date".
He said that Telstra wanted to operate on a level regulatory playing field, that "rules must be fair for everybody" and that Telstra could not be the sole risk taker in the market.
Telstra wants to protect its AU$3 billion fibre investment from being exploited by its rivals.
Coonan said if Telstra ruled out building the network the government would find other ways to expand broadband services in Australia.
"My understanding is that he hasn't yet rejected the possibility of [fibre to the node] and is continuing discussion with the ACCC on that particular proposal," she said.
"Clearly, if those talks don't come to fruition, obviously the government welcomes different approaches, different investments by different players and of course Telstra's plans are always of interest."
Coonan also said that clarity of regulatory issue would be important ahead of any sale of the government's remaining 51.8 per cent interest in Telstra.
"The government doesn't regard regulation as connected to the sale but clearly there are some matters to do with regulation and clarity around some of those issues that are important for Telstra and important for a prospectus," she said.
Asked if the government would meet its July deadline to decide on whether to go ahead with the sale, she said: "Several matters need to be taken into account in the government deciding whether and how it would proceed with the Telstra sale.
"The government hasn't yet made that decision. Obviously in the fairly near future we will have to consider all of these issues and then come to a firm view."
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