Australian Telephony Network Opened Up

Telstra, Australia’s partly-privatised public
telephony carrier, has been forced to give up control over the last remaining
part of its monopoly over local telecommunications networks.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has made a
long-awaited decision to “declare the local loop”. As part of a series of
steps towards complete telecommunications deregulation, the decision
mandates that Telstra must allow other carriers access to the copper lines
which connect users to telephony exchanges, known as the local loop.

Telstra’s competitors in the voice and data markets, such as Cable &
Wireless Optus, AAPT, Davnet and OzEmail, will be allowed to install their
own equipment at telephone exchanges.

The expected effect on telephony will be cheaper call charges for
consumers, but the business world could also benefit in the long term in
the Internet area because rival carriers will be able to deploy
copper-based high bandwidth technologies like Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).

“The decision has large implications not only in the short-term for the
provision of local calls, but for the emerging high-band width services on
which e-commerce, education and entertainment will increasingly rely into
the next decade,” said ACCC chairman, Professor Allan Fels.

ISPs have been itching to deploy networks using several flavours of DSL for
years, but because Telstra controlled the exchanges, it has been impossible
until now to implement anything other than the so-called “splitterless” DSL
variant which is markedly inferior in bandwidth limits.

The situation became farcical last year when Telstra moved to block ISPs
who were using copper connections called “permitted attachment private
lines” (PAPL), which were intended by Telstra to be used as fire alarms, to
run DSL and other connection technologies to carry data.

The decision is a blow to the long-term profitability of Telstra’s OnRamp
ISDN network.

“In the ACCC’s view, without this decision, it is unlikely that [complex
data] services would have been made available on a reasonable commercial
basis. Competitors would be overly dependent on Telstra’s choice of
technologies, platforms, service processes and timing,” Prof. Fels said.

The decision is effective immediately, but the effects will not be felt in
the Internet until after technical issues are resolved by
telecommunications industry groups, the Australian Communications Industry
Forum and the Telecommunications Access Forum.

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