Communications Minister Stephen Conroy tonight said he would be meeting with Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett very shortly to discuss the commercial structure of the NBN in the state, amid criticism from the Opposition about the fact that a planned joint venture with State Government-owned utility Aurora Energy has not eventuated.
The Tasmanian leg of the NBN was originally planned to operate as a joint venture with Aurora, which has previously been involved in other government telecommunications projects in the state, but in December last year NBN Tasmania chief executive Doug Campbell said Aurora was acting as the company’s “agent”.
“Negotiations over the joint venture were slowing down the construction aspect,” Campbell told ZDNet.com.au at the time, noting the talks would continue later. Currently NBN Tasmania operates as a 100 percent subsidiary of the larger national NBN Co.
“I’m seeing the Premier of Tasmania very shortly to have some discussion about it,” Conroy told a Senate Estimates Committee in Canberra tonight, in response to pointed questions about the matter from Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher, who said the talks were “hastening very slowly”.
Conroy said Aurora was a “separate company” which contracted to NBN Co, and that the NBN rollout in Tasmania would be consistent with the national rollout – including, for example, the same operational and business support systems. He said the focus had been on rolling out the NBN in Tasmania.
“NBN Tasmania is a 100 percent subsidiary – we work absolutely hand in glove, as you would expect us to,” said NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley.
Fisher asked whether NBN Co’s board had sought to bring NBN Tasmania “to heel”, by excluding NBN Co as a contractor in Tasmania. “Not that I’m aware of, and by the look on Mr Quigley’s face, I don’t think so,” said Conroy. “Aurora is a separate company it contracts to NBN Co.”
“Yes, Minister,” rejoindered Fisher. “Because the JV hasn’t happened yet?” the Senator asked Fisher.
“Correct,” replied Conroy. “Nobody has ever suggested that it would be excluded from applying to be included as a contractor.” Quigley said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss whether NBN Co’s board had discussed the matter, but that Aurora had been signed up as NBN Co’s agent in Tasmania.
Conroy also provided a range of other tidbits of information in relation to the NBN rollout and the associated company in the committee hearing. For example, he noted that legislation associated with the break-up of Telstra and enhanced competitive guards on the telecommunications industry was slated to hit parliament tomorrow after it went through the Labor caucus today.
Conroy also again committed to releasing some aspects of NBN Co’s upcoming business case, which it will hand to its board this Friday and the Government next week.
“A whole range of information will be made available — I’m sure you’ll be very satisfied,” said Conroy, although he noted that some information would be held back because the information contained could be commercial-in-confidence, or other parties could use it to reverse engineer technology detailed therein.
Fisher described this partial release as the plan with bits “blacked out” or having taken place after an editorial review of the content by Conroy.
NBN Co’s Quigley confirmed NBN Co was looking at the 2.3GHz spectrum as one of the ranges which the company was looking at for its fixed wireless solution where fibre won’t be available – as long as that range of spectrum was available for use. Asked about the 700MHz spectrum, Conroy said the range wouldn’t be available unless NBN chose to bid for it in the Government’s planned auction – but he said that was unlikely.
Image credit: NBN Co