Telstra may not allow government to call its lawyers

Summary:The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has issued a tender for the provision of substantial legal assistance ahead of the rollout of the national fibre-to-the-node network, but it may have a hard time finding a taker.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has issued a tender for substantial legal assistance ahead of the rollout of the national fibre-to-the-node network, but it may have a hard time finding a taker.

The Department is seeking a vendor to provide comprehensive legal support leading up to the rollout of the network, and is offering a 12 month contract to employ the services of a suitable law firm.

Documents attached to the tender state that the Department is seeking legal services from an organisation with "significant experience" in communications law, infrastructure projects, administrative law, construction law, complex litigation and dispute resolution.

Mark Ganz, senior industry analyst at research firm IBISWorld, believes that competition for the tender will be confined to Australia's six "top tier" law firms, an elite group including Freehills, Clayton Utz and Mallesons.

Ganz told ZDNet Australia that only the top tier firms have the resources to cover all of the legal areas associated with the rollout effectively, saying given their size and prestige, such firms can provide a "one stop shop" for matters associated with the project.

The government needs to get everything right because there's so many things that could go wrong

Mark Ganz, IBISWorld

"They'll probably provide extensive scenario analysis," said Ganz, who added that issues surrounding sub-loop unbundling -- a form of unbundling where the local loop is handed over by Telstra to other operators outside of a telephone exchange -- could cause the first legal storms to brew.

"There's no precedent for what would take place if the government allowed that particular change to go through ... so they need to make sure that the legal basis for this is sound, otherwise it could shelve all of their plans," he said.

Telecommunications expert Paul Budde has anticipated a looming legal battle between Telstra and the government ahead of the rollout, and suggested today that the government may have a hard time finding a top tier firm not already engaged with the telco, opening up potential conflicts of interest.

"It would almost definitely exclude several firms who work closely with Telstra," said Budde.

"Because Telstra has taken such a hard line approach towards the government and potential changes to regulation it will be very difficult for a firm closely associated with them to work on what is an extremely sensitive policy area with the government," he said.

IBISWorld's Ganz agreed that this is a possibility, but maintained that there are "ways around it" for any firm with ties to Telstra to also work with the Department.

"Most of the these firms have 10 or 15 partners in their communications law arms, if the government's chosen firm also had people working with Telstra you'd find they'd be separated, but that potential for conflict of interest is there," said Ganz.

"As far as legal matters go the government needs to get everything right because there's so many things that could go wrong."

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government : AU, Legal, NBN, Optus, Telcos, Telstra

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