Guest post: Three’s company in the NBN

If the controversy surrounding the National Broadband Network wasn’t confusing enough, the story is about to get a little bit more complicated. Telstra refuses to bid on the NBN if the government continues its threat of splitting the telco, and Terria and Acacia are currently fighting it out for bragging rights over the government’s promised network. Save the obvious links between the Optus-led Terria group and its Singtel owner, the NBN has remained an all-Australian battleground... until now.

Step in Canadian network wholesaler Axia NetMedia, which yesterday confirmed its bid for the $4.7b NBN, two days before official bidding closes tomorrow. That makes it the first wholly non-Australian bidder in the sordid mess that is the Australian broadband network, and the introduction of a potential new threat — an internationally owned broadband provider to regulate Australian Internet users as it sees fit. Add to that yet another complication: Axia NetMedia has an equal stake in Singapore’s own NBN with, you guessed it, SingTel.

So, Axia is fighting it out with SingTel in Australia, while they are also in bed together in Singapore. Thankfully Mr Trujillo isn’t in the mix, or we’d end up having another APEC meeting. And we all know how successful that could be.

It’s hard to get one’s head around — and at this point I’m not sure if there’s a point — but I’m finding it hard to work out whether Axia’s entrance to the party is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, competition with Telstra is always welcome to the party and, with Axia’s wholesaling experience over long distances, the final result may be halfway to acceptable. On the other, an internationally owned fibre network may simply introduce legal and technical issues that could give the Australian user yet more headaches.

The potential problems are mounting and, like Conroy’s child-loving filter (though that too should be filtered), all we can do is sit back and watch.

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James Hutchinson

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