Independent senator Nick Xenophon has said he will back government legislation paving the way for Telstra’s participation in the national broadband network (NBN), according to Sky News reports.
His support follows the government’s release of a full summary of the NBN business plan, ending days of political stand-off.
Senator Xenophon told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday that he would now support a government bill before the Senate. The bill aims to separate Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms and establish a framework for the giant telco’s participation in the NBN.
Senator Xenophon said he had come close to rejecting the bill but changed his mind following the intervention of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “There are some amendments that will be moved and I have a letter from the prime minister … which sets out the process of scrutiny,” he said.
That scrutiny includes a new joint parliamentary committee on the NBN, which will assess the roll-out process and report back to parliament every six months. If required, representatives from the Productivity Commission, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be able to give evidence to the committee.
Ms Gillard said the summary of the business plan would show that broadband prices would fall over time as the market became more competitive and the rate of return for the government would be higher than the long-term bond rate.
It would also show the NBN now was estimated to cost $35.7 billion, not $43 billion as originally expected.
Senator Xenophon said he hoped the Telstra legislation could be passed by the upper house before parliament rises for the long summer break on Thursday.
“That’s what I’ll be working on,” he said, adding that failure to pass the bill ran the risk that a deal Telstra made with the government over the NBN could fall over.
“I want this to get through the parliament this week. If this falls over we will lose a historic opportunity to sort out this mess of a vertically integrated Telstra which has not been in the interests of consumers and not in the interests of businesses,” Senator Xenophon said.
Senator Xenophon said he would not characterise the government’s decision to release the summary as a backdown, preferring to call it a compromise.
Ms Gillard said the government and NBN Co decided what to put in and leave out of the summary document. “Clearly we are not putting anything into the public domain that would cause market uncertainty,” she told reporters.