Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan has dismissed concerns that delays in selling Telstra will see its value eroded by the cost of a looming infrastructure upgrade to shift the local loop of its Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) over to IP technology.
Speaking to journalists at the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) in Sydney yesterday, Coonan said Telstra's existing PSTN infrastructure was needed to roll out broadband services to satisfy the conditions of the Estens Committee report which stipulates service delivery and coverage criteria for Telstra to meet before any sale.
"We are implementing the Estens report...the broadband rollout meets those requirements. There are conditions that [full privatisation of Telstra] has to provide value to the taxpayer. The existing infrastructure is necessary for the rollout of broadband - it has a long lifespan - maybe 15 years. You would only sell it if there was value," Coonan said.
Coonan also berated the Labor Party over proposals to freeze fixed line rental charges where they stand and impose customer credit limits on mobile phone accounts of $3000.
"This is an extreme example of the nanny-state in action" Coonan said, adding $3000 was a lot for a teenager but inconsequential "to a telemarketing business".
"The Coalition favours [telecommunications industry] self-regulation because it best reflects the needs of the industry and is flexible [and responsive]. Industry has a vested interest in making self-regulation work," Coonan said.
Yet self-regulation seems unlikely on the content front, with Coonan vowing if carriers did not clamp down on the delivery of sex and violence to mobile-enabled minors, she would do it for them.
"Regulation gaps do occur. None of us likes nasty stuff being available to kids. The [Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts] is...looking at content on mobile phones. It is important to consider the content on these phones [in the context of] public-interest objectives," Coonan said.
Opposition Communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner said in a statement the government had completely failed to deal with the telecommunications regulation, particularly the insidious problem of Internet diallers, despite saying it would fix the problem as a 2001 election commitment.
Tanner added telcos in Australia were so far "happy to act as debt collectors for this unsavoury practice and take their cut of the profits".
Industry sources attending the conference (who asked not to be named on the grounds the current political environment was "toxic in the extreme") said Coonan's aim was worthy but ultimately unenforceable, because 2.5G and 3G devices provided access to "the detritus of Internet at the same speed as broadband".
The source said diallers were an issue but warned consumers had to be educated into "self-protection" in the first instance backed by "visible criminal prosecutions of crooks across a number of jurisdictions, particularly some places in the Pacific".
AMTA CEO Graham Chalker described recent health concerns from Labor and the Greens over electromagnetic emissions from mobile phone towers as unfounded.
"You've got the Greens running with it - it's a metropolitan issue, an East-West divide. In the city they want fewer mobile phone [base stations] and in [the bush] they can't get enough of them," Chalker said.
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