Conroy defends 'fluffy, insubstantial' FTTN tender

Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy has hit back at criticism the government's fibre-to-the-node tender documents are far too light on detail, saying they were designed that way.

Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy has hit back at criticism the government's fibre-to-the-node tender documents are far too light on detail, saying they were designed that way.

Speaking earlier this week at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney, Pipe Networks CEO Bevan Slattery labelled the request for proposals (RFP), put out late last week by the government, as "so much non-committal fluff... all buzzwords and no substance", while Internode MD Simon Hackett described it as "awful... a trainwreck".

The Minister, however, said the government had deliberately avoided nailing down too many details around the future regulatory regime in an effort not to hobble potential tenders.

"It should be remembered we are at the start of the process, not at the end," Conroy said, adding: "There are risks in being overly prescriptive in this initial phase about what bids should or should not contain."

Conroy also reiterated his pledge to consider operational separation if the country's new fibre-to-the-node network requires it.

"As I have said, the current operational separation regime is not sufficient. Depending on the nature of the proposals we receive, I am prepared to look very carefully at much stronger measures," he told conference delegates.

David Forman, the executive director of the Competitive Carrier's Coalition (CCC), denied the question of regulation should be left til after the bids to build the network have been received.

"It's not too early [to put a regulatory regime in place] — it should have been done at the RFP stage," he told ZDNet.com.au. "I don't see how it would advance public policy to leave that open."

"Senator Conroy, when he was in the shadow ministry, won our support by arguing for the structural reform of the industry. This is consistent with that. The network shouldn't be built by Telstra in its current structure — that would be ridiculous."

Earlier this month, the Department for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, called for submissions from industry stakeholders on developing the RFP. The submission process lasted eight working days.

"The consultation is merely a checkbox... an eight-day public consultation is disgraceful, it's pathetic," Pipe Networks' Slattery said.

Industry stakeholders are also being requested to give their comments on the regulatory regime surrounding the FTTN network. Submissions must be given to the government one month before the request for proposals closes, on 25 July.

Forman said the CCC would prefer to see the ACCC's standard process applied to the fibre RFP, allowing the industry and other interested parties to put forward comment on specific elements of each proposal after it is made publically available.

The RFP's so-called 'gag order' currently forbids would-be tenderers from talking about their proposals or making them public. "Lots of people have projected a bad motive on it... the atmosphere is really terrible around [the RFP]," he said.