Independents firm with NBN favour

Independent MP Tony Windsor over the weekend told the Sunday Age he had been convinced of the veracity of Labor's $43 billion plan

Australia might still be waiting to find out which of the major parties will form Government following the election two weeks ago, but one thing appears clear: The three independents yet to make up their mind which side they will support are still giving off signs they view Labor's National Broadband Policy with enthusiasm.

Independent MP Tony Windsor over the weekend told the Sunday Age he had been convinced of the veracity of Labor's $43 billion plan, following briefings from Peter Harris, the secretary Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, as well as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

It has been reported that the trio of independents have also met with Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith.

Windsor said he held the view that “'you do it once, you do it right, you do it with fibre''.

In an interview on Sky News (available as a podcast through the Australian Agenda link, Conroy himself said the Windsor and the other independents understood that the NBN would drive better healthcare, education and small business benefits in regional Australia, as well as enabling other technologies such as smart electricity grids.

He said there had been a discussion around costings with the independents, but maintained the Government's NBN costings were public through treasury and budget calculations and the implementation study put together by consulting firms McKinsey and KPMG.

The news comes, however, as the apparent telecommunications industry consensus that Labor's NBN plan is the best way forward has been dramatically broken over the past week.

Last week a splinter group of rebel telecommunications players broke with their Australian brethren’s long-standing support for Labor’s National Broadband Network policy, publishing their own, “NBN 3.0″ model in an apparent attempt to influence the independent members of parliament who may help decide the next Federal Government.

The group is led by a number of prominent NBN critics — PIPE Networks founder Bevan Slattery, AAPT chief executive Paul Braud and BigAir chief executive Jason Ashton — and also includes other companies such as Allegro Networks, EFTel, Vocus Communications, Polyfone and HaleNET. Its own proposal shares more with the Coalition's more minimalist policy than Labor's project.

Ovum research director David Kennedy said even if Labor did form Government with the help of the independents and Greens, the NBN project faced “an uphill battle” as there was no guarantee such a government would last a full term.

“The political differences between Labor and the coalition parties mean that any change of government would mean the end of the NBN, so the project is overshadowed by political uncertainty for the foreseeable future,” he said last week.

Kennedy tied the NBN's problems back to Labor's refusal to meet demands to perform a cost-benefit analysis for the project.

“In the absence of a research-based economic justification of the NBN, there is no way to resolve the issue either way,” said Kennedy.

The analyst said a major consensus needed to be secured for a project such as the NBN, similar to the “long, arduous process” leading to the de-regulation of Australia's telecommunications sector in 1997.

“That opportunity has been lost to the NBN, at least for now. And any government considering policies in support of fibre rollout would do well to study the Australian situation closely – and do it differently,” Kennedy said.

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