NBN was fait accompli: workgroup

FTTH talks 11 days after panel decision

The $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) may have been fait accompli according to industry members who met with Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Gillard "seemed committed" to a Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH) NBN according to members of a new industry workgroup who met with the deputy PM less than a fortnight after the government received advice from the tender expert panel.

The government scrapped plans for a $4.7 billion NBN citing advice from the panel that the tender bids were unsatisfactory.

Members of the Digital Economy Industry Work Group from the telecommunications, health and energy sectors met with senior cabinet ministers including Gillard and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner to discuss economic and regulatory issues surrounding the NBN.

e-Applications special interest group chairman and workgroup member Chris Worrad said Gillard had seemed fixated on canvassing opinion on a FttH network.

"She didn't say much else [about the NBN] aside asking about what we thought of a Fibre-to-the-Home NBN," Worrad said.

"You could assume the deputy PM already knew it was happening."

Telecommunications heavyweights and industry groups had pushed for a FttH NBN from the announcement of the plan. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy insisted the tender, which initially called for a network with 12Mpbs minimum downlink speeds, was not technology-specific, however it was clear the taxpayer fund allocation was meagre in comparison to the estimated $40 to $50 billion required to build an FttH NBN.

The Feburary meeting included Austar CEO John Porter, Google Australia, Fairfax and industry consultants Phillip Long and Belinda Tyson. The workgroup currently has about 30 members and will meet with the Australian Telecommunications User Group in Canberra later this month to discuss the "machinations and machinations" of the NBN.

Worrad said the group is developing a response paper through a private online wiki to the government's NBN regulatory reform paper, due to be issued in June this year. He expects the government's paper to focus on upfront access terms; new powers for the Australian Communications and Consumer Commission to impose binding rules of conduct; the vertical integration and functional separation of Telstra, and the horizontal integration of fixed line and telco interests in respect to content provider monopolies.

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