Licences proposed for telecommunications carriers

Industry group strongly in favour of licences, issue raised at board meeting

Telecommunications providers may have to get a licence before hanging out their shingle if moves within the industry bear fruit.

Computerworld understands the issue of carrier licensing has been raised in several forums recently, including the Telecommunications Industry Group (TIG) and the Telecommunications Carriers' Forum (TCF).

TIG CEO Rob Spray confirms licensing was discussed at a recent board meeting and the organisation, which represents carriers, is strongly in favour of the idea. "There are hurdles everyone should have to jump," Spray says, citing number management, taking measures against fraud, lawful interception, 111 emergency services among others.

Spray says without licensing there are around 10 companies stepping up to meet their service obligations and one or two that are not.

Last week, ICT minister Steven Joyce called on carriers to sign the TCF's 111 emergency calling code and to put in place roaming agreements for emergency calls on mobile networks.

Such requirements could be included in a carrier licence in the future.

New Zealand may be unique in not having a licensing regime, but any move to introduce licensing is likely to be controversial.

Spray says in Europe licences can be a big barrier to entry as they are used to raise revenue. That is not proposed in New Zealand.

TCF CEO David Stone says the licensing issue "comes up from time to time" from a variety of people, but it would be overstating it to say there was a push for licensing.

"It's an issue or option that's starting to be debated within the industry," he says.

Stone says as the industry matures some think the idea has merit, but it is not true to say it has not universal support.

He says the industry is not split according to size on the issue either, with big and small providers to some extent well disposed to the idea.

Telecommunications Users' Association CEO Ernie Newman says TUANZ is happy with New Zealand's unique position.

"I'm comfortable with that layer of bureaucracy that we don't have," he says. "I see no pressing need for a licensing regime."

Newman says is concerned licensing would add to costs that would be passed on to consumers and for the potential for the regime to become bureaucratic and anti-competitive if too draconian.

While the TCF is not advocating licensing, Stone says it could be a way of funding the organisations activities.

Vodafone CEO Russell Stanners says he thinks there is a place for making sure there is a minimum set of requirements where "everyone ticks the box".

"That is a good thing. We are not sure if that translates to licence like in the US, but I think being a member of the TIG [Telecommunications Industry Group], TCF, there is lots of things we do today if you put them into one document you probably call your licence.

"I think every industry should have rules of participation."

Newman says its ironic that Stanners appears to favour a licence as Vodafone has been quick to accuse TUANZ of being unduly positive about regulation.

"Carrier licensing is possibly the most intrusive form of regulation," he says.

Stanners, however, says such a licence will be a "fairly minimum barrier" compared to the need to invest in networks over a 15-year period.

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