Conroy and Telstra have agreed to agree

Conroy and Telstra have agreed to agree

Summary: Stephen Conroy and Telstra's negotiations "update" seems to offer little more substance than the recent Copenhagen climate talks.


Politicians may not be the only people with the ability to work tirelessly for days and come up with nothing, but they sure are good at trying to make us think they've been productive.

After two years in office ... the only tangible concession Conroy has been able to extract from Telstra is an agreement as to how they might agree in the future.

Witness the more or less superfluous negotiations that just concluded in Copenhagen with nothing more than a binding resolution that a majority of the attending heads of state do, in fact, like Danish with their coffee. The ABC, quite amusingly, referred to the conference as a "prime ministerial Disneyland".

The human ability to forgive politicians for their platitudes and ineffectiveness is always astounding. Or maybe we just don't expect much from them anyway. Sure, it's understandable that these things are complex and take time and blah blah blah, but when it's so critically important to get something – anything – happening, status updates-that-aren't-status updates sure can be a cheese grater on our sensibilities.

Witness Stephen Conroy's pronouncement that Telstra and the government "continue to work constructively" on their negotiations over Telstra's role with relationship to the new NBN.

We've been told over and over how Telstra wants to participate in the new NBN, and we've all concluded that Conroy needs Telstra's participation in no uncertain terms. We've waited, and watched, and wondered whether a deal was already more or less certain. And when Conroy finally comes out of the negotiating room, it is to inform us that he has managed to get Telstra to agree on the terms of engagement for transferring Telstra's customers onto the NBN.

This is not a binding plan of action, mind you, but "a preferred model for any agreement between the parties that would see a progressive transition from Telstra's copper access network to a fibre-to-the-premises NBN". In other words, nothing has actually been put into place, other than an agreement about how the final agreement to transfer customers will be structured. They have agreed to agree.

It may seem like a massive accomplishment to them and, given Telstra's history of foot-dragging, it even might be. But the parallels to Copenhagen are surprisingly convenient: dragged to the negotiation table, Telstra is giving nothing away and quite content to break over the holidays to resume these fruitless negotiations next year. After two years in office, and despite all his chest-thumping, the only tangible concession Conroy has been able to extract from Telstra is an agreement as to how they might agree in the future.

The whole process seems more and more like trying to negotiate with a gorilla to give up its bananas – and if those negotiations were underway, Conroy's current pronouncement is about the equivalent of saying that "after months of careful negotiation, we have determined that there is a high probability gorillas like bananas."

When are we going to see some real progress? The NBN is held to be on an eight-year time frame, and the only information we're getting about the transition of Telstra's customers is Catherine Livingstone's statistic about shifting 4000 homes to it every day for eight years. Since that process is nowhere near beginning, what Livingstone is actually doing is giving us a time frame – surely to be extended when reality sets in – over which Telstra's copper local loop will finally be decommissioned, sold off or whatever ultimately happens.

And, at the current snail's pace, I reckon we're looking at 2020 or later. Which is surprising, since at the same time we should remember another number: 10,959. That's how many new copper-line faults Telstra is managing, based on the 4 million faults per year figure provided by one helpful reader.

If the PSTN is the Titanic, the NBN is its Carpathia ... [and Telstra plans] to charge its rescuers a fee per passenger they pick up.

If these figures are even almost accurate, Telstra will be managing 2.5 times as many new faults per year as it will be shifting customers to the NBN. Think of the copper network as a sinking lifeboat with just a few small buckets to keep bailing out the incoming water, and you have a pretty good idea of Telstra's position. If the PSTN is the Titanic, the NBN is its Carpathia. And while Telstra may be defiant now, secretly it has to be counting the seconds until its rescuers arrive – even if it does plan to charge its rescuers a fee per passenger they pick up.

Conroy and Telstra both seem either pleased with their questionable progress so far, or are simply trying to look like they are pleased with it so we can all go have a Merry Christmas and forget about our woeful broadband for a moment. But the real effect of the negotiations' progress, or lack thereof, became most obvious in the shareholder response: Telstra shares dropped 12¢ on Friday after Conroy's and Telstra's statements, as well as the revelation that Telstra expects revenues to flatten out in 2010.

Natural share price fluctuations may recover some of this over time, or they may not. Either way, they certainly suggest that Friday's pronouncement – effectively, that Conroy and David Thodey have each agreed that they, like the Copenhagen junketeers, like Danish with their coffee – is not sitting well with people looking for concrete results. Here's hoping that the negotiations prove more fruitful, and do so more quickly, before the holes get bigger and the buckets can no longer keep up.

Were you disappointed with the speed of the negotiations? Should Conroy be pushing Telstra harder? Or do we just have to be patient?

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


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Roll on the election.

    Pushing Telstra harder? Are you serious. Having already used shocking blackmail, disgusting threats and violating a large percentage of the Australian people by destruction of their investment you expect more?
  • Krudd/Conjob need Telstra!!

    Looks like blackmail has worked for Conjob? What does Thodey have to show for the Shareholders?

    Meanwhile the OPTUS/Singtel lobby group keeps sucking up to the Pollies for a free ride!!
  • Broadband

    Unfortunately if the coalition win the next election they're solution will be to give Optus 1 billion taxpayer dollars in the name of creating competition. I don't see a change of government as being any better for Telstra or improving telecommunications. We need a government that will allow the marketplace to operate freely.
  • re .Krudd/Conjob need Telstra!!

    OOoohh, that was a bit nasty. (But 100% right !)
  • re Krudd/Conjob need Telstra

    OOOOOhhhh nasty ! (But 100% correct)
  • By the way...

    This was the first Telstra thread I stumbled across, so if I may digress for a moment?

    What has happened to Sydney and Vasso? Neither have commented here or at Telstra Exchange for many days, even weeks?

    Have they finally been prized away from the holy portfolios, long enough to now actually see the truth?

    Perhaps they have simply eloped and are sitting in a "bigpond" (where else) in the bahamas with Sol and Phil, lol...
  • Out of retirement (Jacks back)

    RS give me a break. I have been all at sea (on the Diamond Princess liner) bound for NZ and at 80c a minute Net fee on ship I decided to lay low. However, considering what you will be paying for the 43b NBN this will probably seem a cheap service. Best wishes to all for Christmas.
  • Expensive...

    Obviously not prized away and obviously still unable to see the truth!

    Yes Sydney, FTTP will be expensive, probably "almost" as expensive as Telstra is now.
  • @ Out of retirement

    According to the media, Access Economics is predicting that we will have spent $21.5 b just prior to Christmas and an additional $15b on boxing day.

    $36.5b in a matter of days on trinkets...

    Now what were you saying about that $43b, over many years to ensure our comms future/global competitiveness, create jobs, give those without up to date technology and to relinquish the dreaded Telstra monopoly/stranglehold?