Economics now the 'main game' for NBN: Rowland

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has said it would be 'sensible' for both major political parties to reach a common ground on the next steps for the NBN rollout.

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has argued that with the majority of the National Broadband Network (NBN) deployment now in motion, the political debate must shift from its technological makeup to the future of its economics.

Speaking at the CommsDay conference in Melbourne on Tuesday, Rowland said that while she is not advocating for a "flowering of bipartisanship on the NBN", both major parties must come to an agreement on the economics involved.

"The NBN rollout has also reached a point where it is almost entirely in design, construction, or deployed -- a reality which cannot be undone through political will or legislative change," Rowland said.

"As a result, there is likely to be less emphasis on the issues which have been the focal point for the last five years, and a greater focus on the medium-term policy settings -- namely, the economics of the NBN.

"Looking forward, this becomes the main game ... it would be sensible for the major parties to identify common ground on the next steps where feasible to do so."

Rowland used her speech to suggest four steps by which NBN's medium-term future should be decided: Ensuring NBN has a "good working relationship" with both the government and the opposition party of the day; that both parties reach common ground on outcomes; that governments "stop creating traps" and problems; and lastly that NBN "recapture" its "original narrative".

"While it is likely key areas of disagreement will remain, there are some areas where there is not as much distance as public commentary might suggest," Rowland said.

"Both parties are committed to the principle of universal access; both parties want broadband to be affordable; both parties want to act responsibly in a fiscal sense; and both parties, I presume, want to see a sustainable funding mechanism for regional and remote services -- not just in name, but also in substance. This is a basis to work from."

The shadow comms minister pointed to the 2013 Strategic Review and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids in 2016 as the government creating more problems for itself.

"These might have been deemed necessary political counter-punches at the time, but inevitably they undermined trust and brought with it a hardening of positions," she argued.

Rowland also lauded the company's shift earlier this year to publish research on the social and economic benefits of the NBN.

"In doing so, the company sought to provide a basis in which both parties can have a stake in some of the life-changing opportunities which ubiquitous access to high-speed broadband is opening up for Australians across the country," she said.

"I consider the pathways to improving the sentiment is a function of better experience, better service, authentic expectations management, and an ongoing value proposition that connects with a broader narrative about the mindset we want Australians to adopt in the digital age."

Rowland lastly also pointed to her priorities of ensuring through a service guarantee that consumers are not sold speeds NBN cannot deliver; that fibre to the curb be deployed in fibre-to-the-node areas where construction or design has not yet begun; improving consumer safeguards; improving the NBN medical alarm assistance scheme; ensuring fixed-wireless users don't pay more than fixed-line; and improving fixed-wireless congestion reporting.

The shadow communications minister noted that this could be her last major telco industry speech before the next federal election.

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