Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher has said that the government will consider improving regional and rural mobile communications as part of NBN Co's wider strategic review, on the back of a Vodafone-commissioned report into broadband.
The McKell Institute report, Superfast Broadband, has said that the original National Broadband Network (NBN) policy was conceived in 2007, before the launch of the iPhone and the accompanied rapid uptake in mobile broadband. The change of government and a review into the rollout of the project provides an opportunity for the government to begin to consider including a mobile telecommunications policy.
The report reiterates previous lobbying from Vodafone that NBN Co could open up its fixed-wireless towers across Australia to co-investment and co-location with Australian mobile operators like Vodafone, Telstra, and Optus.
The Coalition has already committed to investing AU$100 million in funding to be matched by industry to build between 200 and 250 towers in mobile blackspots across regional and remote Australia, but the report today suggested that coverage improvements could be tied into the NBN rollout review.
Vodafone CEO Bill Morrow said the new government's decision to review the NBN was "incredibly timely, and incredibly thoughtful", and said it would address the way Australians access the internet has changed in just five years since the conception of the NBN project.
Fletcher indicated today that the new government would be more receptive to industry suggestions, criticising former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy for comparing Morrow to controversial ex-Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo.
"I knew Sol Trujillo, [and] Bill, you're no Sol Trujillo," the former Optus executive said.
He said the new government has realised that not "all wisdom lies in Canberra", and that it welcomes informed contribution to the debate.
"We will certainly study [the report] and take account of it as we develop our thinking in regards to the NBN," he said.
"We will have more to say in due course on this area, particularly as we work through the strategic review."
Fletcher would not say whether the Coalition would seek to move away from delivering the fixed-wireless service as part of the review, stating that it is "not intuitively attractive" to the government. The change would also put at risk the existing contract the government had signed with Ericsson to deliver the fixed-wireless network.
He would not say whether the government is considering making it easier for telcos, such as NBN Co, to get approval from councils to build new towers in the face of opposition for local residents. Morrow said it is an issue for telcos, but said he is sympathetic to local residents who do not want new towers in their areas.
"As they say, necessity is the mother of innovation and invention. It's necessary we find solutions that don't distract from this aesthetic beauty of a particular town, and yet we can still deliver services," he said.
"It's not an either-or; it's how do we blend the two together. It shouldn't be a bulldozer approach."