Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Graeme Samuel today called on Telstra to "throw the switch" in more exchanges to its faster next-generation ADSL2+ service.
"Activate ADSL2+ in those DSLAMs you have already installed and offer high speed broadband to the vast majority of Australians, as you can," Samuel said during a speech in Sydney.
"And stop using the now overplayed excuse of regulatory constraints as a subterfuge, in the hope that you might be able to persuade our politicians to remove regulations designed to foster and promote competition."
Samuel's comments come several weeks after Telstra started selling ADSL2+ services -- but only in areas where competitors already offered the service. It has the capability in some other areas, but remains unwilling to switch on the higher speeds due to concerns the ACCC would force it to offer the speeds to rivals as a wholesale service.
Samuel said today although ADSL was available in exchanges covering about 91 per cent of the population, which could be readily upgraded to provide the faster service, Telstra had only upgraded about 364 exchanges with a catchment of about 46 per cent of the population.
"The laws give the ACCC the power to give Telstra's investments away to competitors at below cost," a Telstra spokesman said today.
"The company wants to roll out high speed broadband across Australia, but is being prevented from doing so by the regulations as they stand today." But Samuel has dismissed the concerns, saying wholesale broadband is not a regulated service.
He said Telstra could apply for an exemption under the laws if it wanted more certainty.
But the telco said such a tack was not feasible because it had failed in previous attempts, and even if granted an exemption, the ACCC could still vary the terms and conditions.
Samuel also called on Telstra to release its abandoned fibre-to-the-node, or FTTN, proposal to the public.
In August, Telstra scrapped plans to build a new $4 billion fibre optic broadband network after negotiations with the ACCC over regulatory issues broke down.
Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan immediately backed Samuel's comments in a written statement.
"For Telstra's part, for too long they have capped broadband speeds at 1.5Mbps, artificially constraining consumers from getting the speeds they deserve. And while they have switched on their faster ADSL2+ broadband service in recent weeks, they have only done so in exchanges where competitors are already offering fast broadband speeds," she said.
"Telstra cannot continue to falsely claim government regulation stands in the way of giving consumers faster broadband. Samuel made his position plain today showing there are no regulatory impediments to giving more Australians access to ADSL 2+."
Coonan said demand existed for the higher speeds, and Telstra's shareholders should urge the company to take advantage of the opportunity to offer higher speeds.
"Ultimately it will be competition that will force Telstra to act. There is no better example of this than Telstra's approach with ADSL2+. And it will be competition that delivers Australian consumers more choice of broadband provider, more choice of broadband speeds at a price they can afford," she said.
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