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In all the 120 papers submitted in response to a Federal Government discussion paper on regulatory reform ahead of the National Broadband Network, only one was from a big customer. The rest were mainly from telcos and ISPs. All except Telstra wanted the Big T split up. The Government released the papers on Friday.

The sole customer customer paper came from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which looked at what’s wrong with broadband now and what it wants in the future. Which would seem to be the obvious points for any inquiry.

The ABC says the NBN focus should be not only on network speed but also liberal access. It provides telling examples of the drag that Internet costs and download/upload limits impose on the contemporary Australian economy.


For instance, the corporation says it can’t afford to use existing broadband to transfer TV programs around its network.

“High broadband data prices have increased the costs of developing and delivering online media services,” Auntie reports. “ABC TV has found that it is often more cost-effective ­ if slower and less convenient ­ to transfer program content between locations using tape and other physical media, rather than sending large digital files over broadband.”

And that’s what the NBN is supposed to be about ­ moving information between businesses and government agencies quickly and efficiently. Not just movies to private homes but also between cinemas; electronic teaching and videos to schools and unis; and making remote medicine possible with virtual surgery, rapid transfers of patient records, x-rays and medical scans.

“Australian broadband contracts ­ unlike those in most other developed countries ­ are structured around specified monthly data transfer limits,”


the ABC adds. “When a customer’s activity exceeds these ‘caps’, the ISP either charges them a fee or significantly reduces the speed of their network connection.

 

“Telstra does not include content downloaded or streamed from within the BigPond ‘walled garden’ when calculating the traffic use of its retail customers. This creates an incentive to use content sourced from BigPond and effectively discriminates against rich audiovisual and interactive content from other sites, including the ABC’s.

“The potential impact is illustrated by the use of ABC iView by subscribers to ISP services which are not metered; in May 2009, customers of the five ISPs that offer unmetered access to iView accounted for about 14 percent of visits to abc.net.au, but 43 percent of visits to the iView service.”

With a couple of exceptions from individuals, the 120-odd papers mainly provided the same-old, same-old. All but a few called not only for the separation of Telstra, but for splitting the divisions as soon as possible in the run-up to the NBN construction.

Inevitably, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission wants legal separation of Telstra’s assets and activities into separate corporate entities with entirely separate owners and shareholders.


Sharpshooters to fore

Optus advocates not so much “Chinese walls” but something as fierce as the Berlin Wall, with sharpshooters perched on top to punish any infractions, such as transfer of staff and inside information.

In contrast, Telstra’s views were muted, although basically unchanged in opposing separation and wanting a special independent body to monitor wholesale charges to other telcos using its network. It rushed down this traditional path, commissioning expensive consultants. We missed the savage attacks on the regulatory framework ­ perhaps reflecting Telstra’s new CEO David Thodey.

The lone supporters of Telstra were from the football codes. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the Telstra Assistance Fund supports the AFL and NFL, and the Big T has many deals with individual clubs across the country.  ­ John Stackhouse

 The papers can be found at
www.dbcde.gov.au/communications/national_broadband_network

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