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Senate passes NBN Bills with amendments

After two days of heated debate, two crucial National Broadband Network Bills have passed the Senate with amendments moved by the government, the Greens and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.

After two days of heated debate, two crucial National Broadband Network Bills have passed the Senate with amendments moved by the government, the Greens and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.

The National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendments (National Broadband Network Measures — Access Arrangements) Bill 2011 passed through the Senate late last night. The government had attempted to move an additional 35 amendments to the legislation, which it said was aimed at addressing level playing field provisions and ensuring NBN Co would remain an open, wholesale-only network.

One controversial amendment put forward would have given NBN Co the power to veto any points of interconnect ruling by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). This would mean that if the ACCC decided that NBN Co had to add or change any of its 121 points of interconnect — where NBN Co hands off network traffic to retail service providers — NBN Co could simply overrule this.

Xenophon and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam were successful in jointly moving an amendment that removed this veto power.

Outspoken Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal Senator Ian MacDonald also held up voting on a number of the amendments in the parliament yesterday stating Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had gone back on a promise that the NBN would provide equal access to regional and rural areas. One provision in the amendments states that while basic packages on the NBN will be the same price regardless of whether it was delivered via fibre, wireless or satellite, prices may be different between the technologies for higher speed packages.

Joyce said that the government had a responsibility to ensure "every megabit" was charged the same regardless of how or where it was delivered.

Conroy rejected the Senators' concerns, stating that media reports about the amendment were a "total fabrication" and that it was never the intent of NBN Co to offer equal prices for the higher speeds packages. He said that speeds higher than the baseline 12Mbps was not possible on wireless and satellite technology available now.

There is speculation that Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor may attempt to move a number of their own amendments to address this when the Bills return to the House of Representatives on Monday for MPs to consider the Senate amendments.

Conroy welcomed the passage of the legislation in a statement released late last night.

"Passage of these Bills further underpins the Gillard Government's policy to deliver structural reform of the telecommunications industry to promote, for the first time, sustainable retail-level competition," Conroy said. "The Bills set out a clear regulatory framework to provide that NBN Co will operate on a wholesale-only, open and equivalent access basis, delivering long term benefits for competition and consumers."