Broadband consortium Terria has begun a national campaign to raise public awareness about itself and the planned national broadband network, simultaneously lodging a submission to the opposition-led Senate committee enquiry about the network.
A Terria billboard in Canberra
The consortium of eight telcos, led by Optus, today unveiled a major advertising campaign in Canberra's airport as the beginning of a national onslaught to raise awareness of the network with stakeholders, business and community with advertising and networking.
"It's not even been an issue that's so far been covered in the general media," Terria chairman Michael Egan told ZDNet.com.au today.
In Canberra today Terria lodged its submission to the Senate select committee, established by the opposition in June to inquire into and report on the government's plan to partner with private companies to provide minimum speeds of 12Mbps to 98 per cent of Australians on an open access basis.
The committee will consider aspects of the network such as availability, choice, costs and competition as well as consequences for productivity, investment and economic growth and cost of living.
A Terria spokesperson said government processes precluded the details of the submission being made public, but Egan said it included the sentiment that the national broadband network "has great potential to do good, and great potential to do bad if we don't get it right."
Doing it right meant having a genuinely open access network, because the network would bypass exchanges where competition had been created by rivals installing their own equipment to use with Telstra's copper network, he said.
Terria chairman Michael Egan
Being open required a separated group to run the network, Egan continued, something he also canvassed yesterday in a speech at Sydney conference.
No amount of regulation could change this need, according to Egan.
"A major retailer, owning and running the national broadband network, will always have both the ability and the incentive to stifle competition. And that will apply regardless of the level of regulation that is put in place to try to prevent any exercise of monopoly power," he said in his speech yesterday.
"Short of giving regulators arbitrary and summary powers, and an army of investigators and monitors, no regulatory framework will ever be adequate to ensure a completely level playing field."
Telstra's role in creating this situation hasn't made it the devil, Egan said, instead calling the company the product of human nature.
"And that is not because Telstra is evil incarnate ... it's not the only company that will put its own interests ahead of the national interest if it's given half an opportunity to do so. It's simply an inevitable fact of life when opportunity, commercial incentives and human nature combine."
Egan believed that to get Telstra onto the path of telecommunications righteousness, the telco had to be protected from itself if it won the NBN tender, via structural separation. "Whenever you want people to do right, remove the temptation to do wrong," he said.
However, the word separate had violent effects on the nation's number one telco, Egan said. "For Telstra, however, the word 'separate' is like a red rag to a bull. It sends them berserk."
It's not even been an issue that's so far been covered in the general media
Terria Chairman Michael Egan
Egan accused Telstra of being stuck in a mindset two centuries old. "Telstra's approach ... is that the owners of private property should be able to do whatever they like with that property, unencumbered by any social or community obligations. And that is a perfectly reasonable argument — at least for a nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalist," he said.
If competition had to come from companies investing in their own competing infrastructure, as Telstra believed, then each international airline flying in or out of Australia would have its own terminal and airport, Egan said.
Telstra has been stuck in a state of denial Egan said, a condition he hoped would improve now that the company's high profile GM public policy and communications Phil Burgess has left.
"Its refusal can only be the result of an irrational belief that only it has the capacity and funding to build the network and that it can therefore ignore the public policy objectives of a genuine open access network.
"It will be fascinating to see whether this irrationality and truculence survives Telstra's very recent announcement of changes in its senior management personnel," he said.
At the press conference today, Egan also said that the roll out of the network should first focus on locations that are currently under-serviced by broadband and not start in the cities.