Forum: Were fears of a weak regulator unfounded?

The Commerce Commission shows signs of steel

For the past few months, the ICT industry has been keeping close tabs on changes at the Commerce Commission, searching for signs of any change in direction in the telecomms regulation regime.

The word on the streets was that the new chairman, Mark Berry, would weaken the regulator’s willingness to intervene to promote competition. Certainly some of Berry’s papers on industry regulation indicate he is sceptical of regulation to transfer value to consumers.

Uncertainty about the reappointment of telecommunications commissioner Ross Patterson, who has been on leave, only served to increase user concerns that the regulator was charting a new course.

Last week’s announcement on mobile termination, where the commission released a draft report recommending that mobile termination rates be regulated, should allay some of those fears.

Even Ernie Newman, CEO of user association TUANZ, reported he was “100 percent happy” with the result.

You can be sure that means Telecom and Vodafone were 100 percent unhappy with it.

The commission didn’t stop there, though, on the same day launching an investigation into whether it should extend a mobile roaming investigation to include roaming prices.

There’s still a long way to go before either of these decisions, or rather draft decisions and investigations of possible future decisions, will go all the way to being approved by communications minister Steven Joyce.

There are also, no doubt, a lot more changes in train for the commission itself.

And then there was the commission’s earlier decision on pricing for access to sub-loop unbundling — access to Telecom’s shiny new cabinets, that is. That decision was a major disappointment for challengers such as Orcon, which believes it has now been priced out of the sub-loop market.

The good news is, as these recommendations add to the big pile in the minister’s in-tray, we should finally get a look at Steven Joyce’s approach to industry regulation.

Last month, Joyce also delayed any announcements on the government’s planned $1.5 billion broadband investment until August.

He was right to do so. Getting the correct plan in place is vital and the issues are enormously complex.

As we’ve seen in Australia, the incumbent telcos are quite capable of playing a good game of obstruction in the face of broadband projects of national interest.

Take your time, minister. Take three months if you have to.

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Tags RoamingComComCommerce CommissionNetworking & Telecomms IDmtrs

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