Second attempt at broadband inquiry succeeds

A second opposition attempt to force a Senate committee inquiry into the state of Australian broadband competition passed through the upper house today after two new terms of reference were added to the original proposition.

After failing on the first occasion, Labor, the Democrats and the Greens forced the inquiry after broadening it to cover ownership control and the use of existing infrastructure.

Shadow Minister for IT, Senator Kate Lundy, told ARN that Labor gained support from independents Meg Lees and Shayne Murphy to swing the result by one vote.

Lundy said she hoped to gain a comprehensive investigation into the uses of broadband technologies by service providers.

“We are calling for strong recommendations on how to increase broadband competition,” she said. “Competition is a major problem and [Senator] Alston is trying to cover up the hot issues affecting broadband.”

Lundy said that Telstra's position as the dominant broadband provider would be the main focus of the inquiry.

The previous attempt was described by the government and independents as a “waste of taxpayer’s money”. A spokesperson for the department of communications and IT today reinforced those feelings.

“The government’s position has not changed on this issue,” he said.

The spokesperson highlighted the Estens report and the Broadband Advisory Group (BAG) inquiry as the backbone of facilitating development of broadband technology and competition.

He claimed this new inquiry was unproductive and only added to research already undertaken.

The Department of Communications said a Senate inquiry was already taking place after Labor called for it in June 2002, but confirmed the Senate is yet to report on its findings. It is nine months overdue.

The Minister for Communications and IT, Senator Richard Alston, said the ACCC also recently launched an inquiry into Internet interconnection at his request.

Alston said several other inquiries had already made recommendations on higher bandwidth services for rural and regional areas, including competition aspects of higher bandwidth pricing.

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