NBN by Christmas canned, Conroy blasted

Draft network information released, tenders not due now until end of year.

The Federal Opposition released a stinging attack on Senator Conroy's announcement late Friday that the draft "network information instruments" needed by proponents to prepare proposals for the National Broadband Network have been released.

(See all of Computerworld's NBN coverage)

Shadow communications minister Bruce Billson said Australian broadband users seeking higher speeds and more affordable services have been dealt another blow with confirmation in Conroy's announcement of another time-table overrun in the NBN process.

Delays in providing NBN proponents with information on existing infrastructure that is crucial to projecting the cost of a national fibre network has seen the Optus-led Terria group point the finger at Telstra, which has most of the required information, for stalling.

Telstra has shifted the blame onto the government, insisting it has always given Senator Conroy's department above and beyond the information it asked for.

Late on Friday, Senator Conroy's office released copies of the two draft instruments: one which specifies the network information selected telecommunications carriers would be required to collect and provide to the Government; and the second which sets out the rules that the recipients of the network information must comply with to ensure that the information is managed securely.

The drafts were accompanied by a statement from Senator Conroy, saying the release of the two instruments was an important step forward in ensuring NBN proponents are able to prepare "robust proposals".

"The scope of network information to be provided has been prepared following consultation with proponents, as well as advice from our specialist expert advisers and relevant Government agencies," Conroy said.

"Based on this independent expert advice, the Government is of the view that the information set proposed is sufficient for the preparation of robust proposals."

The opposition released its own statement criticising the plan for being plagued by time-line overruns, regulatory confusion and estimates of project cost blow-outs from $8 billion to $25 billion, well before the NBN has even reached the starters' gates.

Senator Conroy had promised a network builder would be selected by the end of June 2008, with construction to begin by the end of the year. Billson picked apart Conroy's statement on the network information instruments, which indicates that tenders will not even be due now until the end of the year, meaning Conroy's promise of turning the first sod for the NBN by Christmas will be broken.

"But buried in the second last paragraph of Senator Conroy's media release today [Friday] the truth is revealed: 'Once network information is provided to proponents, they will have 12 weeks to finalise their proposals. This will mean proposals will now be received towards the end of 2008'."

Conroy said the extra time for bidders will ensure that proponents have the information required to develop their proposals.

Billson, however, called it further confirmation that the Rudd government "conned the Australian people with election broadband sound bites that were sadly not supported by sound public policy".

"Today we learn that Senator Conroy is finally going to use legislative powers obtained only with the cooperation of the Opposition back on 15 May, to require telecommunications carriers to provide information in relation to existing broadband network infrastructure, so proponents can shape and cost their bids. Why has it taken so long?" Billson asked.

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Andrew Hendry

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