Labor will seek clarification from the regulator over the government's announcements on WiMax, accusing the Coalition of trying to defraud voters over the capabilities of the technology.
Opposition communications spokesperson Stephen Conroy said today at the Australian Financial Review Broadband Australia conference that he intended to query the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) over whether the government can include statements that Labor believes are untrue in mail-outs sent to voters to explain its Broadband Connect WiMax scheme.
Conroy objects to the government's claims on speeds the network can deliver, saying the Coalition did not include the phrase "up to" in its collateral, and on the coverage that can be achieved by a WiMax base station, which the government puts at 50 kilometres.
"Helen Coonan says 50 kilometres, OPEL want to try and stick at 20 kilometres. Experts ... say five to 10 kilometres if you're being kind and one to two kilometres if you're unkind," Conroy said.
He continued: "I'm writing to you [fellow delegate Michael Cosgrave, head of the communications division at the ACCC] to seek clarification to see if the government and OPEL can make these claims." Conroy added that although Coonan is not engaging in commerce and so may be allowed to make such statements, "OPEL aren't going to be allowed to join in in misleading the public."
He also took the government to task over the maps of where OPEL's bush WiMax network will reach. The maps, said Conroy, were "fraudulent" and published on the government's Web site with disclaimers -- which were not included with the maps sent to voters.
The government's disclaimers include: "The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts makes no guarantee about the suitability of these maps for any purpose by any person whatsoever."
The ACCC's Cosgrave said Coonan's maps were unlikely to fall within its jurisdiction, as it would have to be proven that the minister was in involved in trade and commerce before the figures could be queried. "Political utterances are generally not regarded as trade and commerce, thankfully for us," he said.
Cosgrave added that the question of how speeds are represented to consumers by their ISPs was an issue for the regulator. "The nub of concern was we were seeing throughout the sector a very widespread advertising, advertising a [particular] speed ... those figures are being pretty broadly bandied about.
"The reality is, for any of the platforms, a range of factors is going to affect the nature of the speed ultimately enjoyed by the end user ... That's not being made clear enough to consumers."