The dominant technology issue of the election so far has been internet filtering. However, an $18 million fine imposed on Telstra is a reminder that Labor and Liberal parties both have very different views of the telecommunications industry, particularly on whether we need the National Broadband Network.
Telstra’s court-imposed $18 million fine, following a court case bought by the ACCC, is because it refused to allow competitors in four capital cities to install equipment in exchanges, claiming those exchanges were full when in fact they weren’t. In rather plainer terms: It lied in order to prevent competitors setting up rival services, and it was able to do so because, as privatised under a Liberal government, it retained control over network equipment.
Under the Labor plans for the NBN, Telstra will effectively sell off the existing network to the NBN, removing its role in determining exchange access and competing with other ISPs to purchase NBN access at wholesale rates. However, Liberal policy is to ditch the NBN altogether and retain the role of the ACCC in determining access disputes to the existing copper network.
An $18 million fine might suggest that the ACCC is doing an OK job of that, but it’s crucial to note that the anti-competitive behaviour began in 2006. In other words, it has taken five years for the issue to actually get resolved. At the rate of current network evolution, five years is a long time, and relying on that process is a terrible way to run a business. Whether you think it’s a terrible communications policy is up to you, but it’s something to consider when weighing your decision.