Acacia, a consortium of Melbourne-based businesses, is calling for a utilities-based NBN to be managed by a public-controlled entity, similar to Telstra before it was privatised. It is calling for a standalone, independent NBN provider which does not face any incentives to discriminate in favour of a related retail entity, thereby promoting the highest level of competition among retail service providers. Acacia wants an NBN that is a utilities-based asset in the hands of the public, available to all Australians across all technology platforms.
"TransACT believes in clear separation of retail and wholesale operations although this is not a requirement of the NBN RFP. The NBN will result in ubiquitous fixed broadband within 5 years and this will fundamentally change the game. This means that current regulatory paradigms (and Australia is not alone) will have to shift their current focus from infrastructure competition as the end goal. Since there is a clear natural monopoly on fixed services with the NBN, the Long Term Interests of End Users (LTIE) are better served by encouraging open access on the transport layer (NBN) and stimulating the development and provision of innovative services. TransACT's proposed utility model for the NBN pipe suggests that we should now look to the kind of retail competition that is seen around other utilities - not the kind of access competition seen now around ISPs and mobiles."
AXIA's submission contends that in order to accomplish the government's objectives in creating the NBN, the network must be a fibre grid that inter-connects "ALL Australian communities - not just those communities that are geographically or demographically attractive to the incumbent telco".
The NBN must offer a truly open access infrastructure available to all parties at the exact same rates, terms and conditions without conflicts of interest: "A single rate structure should apply on the entire network. NBN bandwidth rates and services must have the same price within any community on the network regardless of whether that community is metropolitan, regional or rural." AXIA submits that the NBN must not have distance or usage charges, as "it is the 'tyranny of distance' that creates the digital divide".
It called for the NBN to be owned and operated by a specialty company "whose sole profit motive is to supply wholesale NBN services on a truly unconflicted open access basis". Strict structural separation must preclude the NBN owner/operator from participating in the local access and retail telecommunications business.
Google suggests several key points that the Government should consider in both selecting the operator of the NBN and designing the best regulatory environment to achieve the Government's vision for 'broadbanding' Australia:
To unlock the full potential of the NBN and the Internet access it will deliver, Google believes it is crucial to implement policies that maintain the Internet's fundamentally open, neutral, non-discriminatory nature. Universal access and affordability for all Australians, and high symmetrical speeds are crucial. It is essential that if the winning bidder for the NBN also operates retail services of its own, it should offer such services on a wholesale basis to competitor independent providers on equivalent, non-discriminatory terms achieved through strong, independently enforced functional or structural separation.
Consideration should be given to promoting a regulatory environment that protects user choice, competition and innovation on the Internet. Google is concerned to ensure that the Government's well-intentioned investment in the NBN does not inadvertently lead to decreased competition and access to broadband services in the short term. For example, if exchanges with existing copper-based competitive infrastructure are converted to fibre-based technologies early in the NBN rollout period, Australia may in fact see a net decrease in broadband service availability and competition, with corresponding price impacts for consumers. Similar to the analog-digital television switchover strategy, it may be necessary to undertake a phased conversion of Australia's broadband infrastructure from copper wire to fibre optic cable. It is essential that existing ADSL 2+ and similar competitive copper wire based broadband services continue to co-exist with the NBN, at least during a defined transition period."
Google is also concerned that without major developments in the international capacity market, Australia's investment may not translate into the kinds of cost reductions and speed improvements users deserve. "Australia could end up with a superhighway to the node, but if we only have a few expensive roads with high tolls connecting Australia with the rest of the world, Australian users won't be traversing the worldwide web at the promised superhighway speeds at reasonable prices".
Access Innovation Media
Access Innovation Media develops and delivers media access solutions with a core focus on the needs of the 3.5 million Australians with hearing and vision impairments. Access Innovation Media believes no other delivery platform can match the flexibility, reach and opportunities offered by universally available broadband, and is calling for a universally accessible NBN that will significantly enhance the quality of life for those with vision and hearing impairments.
Regional subscription television provider AUSTAR sees the NBN as an opportunity to address underserved regional areas of Australia and provide a competitive retail environment for consumers and access seekers. AUSTAR believes separation of the NBN operator from any downstream business units and access to wholesale services, and service equivalence on all terms and conditions, are minimum requirements to restrain the market power of the NBN operator.
"We believe structural separation is the preferred path for a national government funded asset", AUSTAR said in its submission. "Further, given Telstra's active pursuit of content rights for the BigPond service and the important role of content services in driving demand for the services of any access seeker, if Telstra is the winner of the NBN bid, consideration must be given to whether it should continue to own a signficant stake in Foxtel. This is particularly relevant if structural separation is not achieved."
AUSTAR accused Telstra of overstating the uncertainty of consumer demand for the NBN, stating that the government's $4.7 billion contribution "should go a long way" to offsetting that uncertainty.
All submissions can be viewed in their entirety on the Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Web site here.