Rowland calls for Turnbull to release NBN Co corporate plan

Labor MP questions Turnbull's response to TPG FTTB rollout

Federal Labor MP Michelle Rowland has accused Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull of "dithering" in his response to TPG's fibre-to-the-basement rollout.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission this morning revealed it would not take action against TPG's FTTB scheme, which could potentially compete with NBN Co's own infrastructure rollout.

The ACCC concluded that TPG had not run afoul of anti-cherry picking rules designed to protect the NBN against telcos that seek to build competing infrastructure in areas with a high revenue potential.

"In a few days, it will be one year since TPG announced that it would cherry pick low-cost, high value apartments as part of its fibre-to-the-basement rollout," Rowland, the shadow assistant minister for communications, wrote in a blog entry.

"Other carriers have indicated that if TPG was allowed to proceed, they would follow suit. This threatens NBN Co’s ability to provide high speed broadband to all Australians, no matter where they live or do business."

"Unchecked, the TPG saga has the potential to punch a big enough hole in NBN Co’s business case to bring the whole thing on budget.

"This problem has arisen because Malcolm Turnbull failed to properly consider the consequences of his second-rate broadband policy prior to the election...

"A fibre-to-the-basement rollout was no threat to Labor’s world-class fibre-to-the-premises network, but it could compete with Malcolm’s Turnbull’s cheaper, second-rate network. An FTTB rollout also meant that TPG would have a monopoly on the buildings it selects because two providers can’t both use the copper for vectored VDSL."

The ACCC today indicated that it would examine declaring vectored VDSL services of the type TPG is rolling out, which would allow the regulator to open up TPG's infrastructure to competitors.

"The expectation is that the ACCC will consider declaring these services. If so TPG will have to make them available, at a minimum, at the declared wholesale price and terms to RSPs [retail service providers]," said independent telecommunications analyst Chris Coughlan.

In a statement issued in the wake of the ACCC's decision to take no action against TPG, Turnbull announced that he would begin consultations on imposing a new telecommunications licensing condition.

It would require owners of high-speed networks "affected by the ACCC's declaration process to functionally separate their wholesale operations, and to provide access to competing service providers on the same terms as it is provided to their own retail operations."

Rowland questioned whether the move would be enough to deter cherry picking.

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The Labor MP said that Turnbull's "indecision" on dealing with TPG's plans had implications for NBN Co's business case and called on the minister to release NBN Co’s 2014-17 Corporate Plan "immediately".

In a response, Turnbull wrote that it was "Labor’s ideological insistence on fibre and failure to allow NBN Co to be more flexible and commercial [that] created the gap TPG has been seeking to fill."

"Leaving aside the obvious fact that TPG has been seeking to exploit a loophole left in a law passed under the Labor Government, the truth is that TPG's opportunity arose because the NBN Co was not moving to deploy superfast broadband to big apartment buildings close to the capital cities," Turnbull wrote.

Because Labor refused to allow NBN Co to run fibre to the basement of apartment blocks and use existing copper to connect units to the NBN, the government-owned company ended up bypassing many multi-dwelling units.

Read more: Turnbull flags new rules on retail, wholesale separation for telcos

"Had [former communications minister Stephen Conroy] given that permission, many of the precincts where TPG has been proposing to deploy would and could have been connected to the NBN long ago and at a much lower cost.

"If they had been connected by the NBN Co, as they should have been because they represent good near term revenue opportunities, then the opportunity for TPG would simply not have existed."

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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