Forum: Telco competition delivers for users

Vested interests are trying to neuter the Commerce Commission

There are times when you should sit back, lift your head from immediate concerns and reflect on what has been achieved. In telecommunications this is one of those times.

Last week Telecom announced a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partner in Digital Island. That announcement follows several similar ones from Vodafone. NZ Communications looks like it is finally about to launch, though its go-to-market brand is tipped to be something different.

There has been a steady increase in the data caps being offered at similar price points in both mobile and fixed line broadband. Fibre is being rolled out to cabinets around the country to facilitate the delivery of ADSL2+. Fibre is being rolled out in other ways to, by providers such as Vector and TelstraClear.

Fibre to the home is still a long way away for most, but improved speeds and better deals are already here — and they will continue to improve.

Few of these benefits would have occured without new legislation and regulation to correct what was a demonstrable failure of the market in the late 1990s.

Another reason to reflect on progress right now is that one of the main bodies that delivered our new competitive environment, the Commerce Commission, now has a new chairman in Mark Berry, who is said not to be a fan of activist regulation.

Waiting in the wings to return is telco commissioner Ross Patterson, who stepped down to deal with an alcohol-related health problem last year. Patterson accepted the role in 2007 after initially turning it down. He changed his mind because it was, by then, a different job altogether.

The IT minister at the time, David Cunliffe, said the commissioner would play a pivotal role in implementing the new telecommunications regime introduced following the passing of his Telecommunications Amendment Act.

Patterson told Computerworld last year the post was previously more of an arbitrator or vindicator of disputes, but was changed to be a “more active and more interesting proposition where you can make a real difference”.

The question now is whether that is still the case. Vested interests — free marketers who don’t like competition — and their proxies are lining up to neuter the Commerce Commission.

Computerworld has been told repeatedly that Patterson is ready and willing to resume his duties. Patterson himself refuses to comment. So the question now, if that is true, is will the new government and its newly appointed Commerce Commission chairman welcome him back. If it does, does that signal that active regulation in the telco space will continue — even if it doesn’t in other areas?

Outgoing ComCom chair Paula Rebstock last week dealt with some unfinished business, responding to Telecom’s and Vodafone’s proposed mobile termination rate (MTR) undertakings and saying they weren’t adequate. The ComCom only has power to regulate wholesale telecomms markets. Its MTR efforts are designed to ensure those markets deliver competitive prices to retailers and MVNOs. Those retailers then compete like hell for our business.

This process involves a transfer of value from the providers to the consumers.

It’s a process that Berry has argued against in the past.

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Tags ComComRoss PattersonCommerce Commissionpaula rebstock

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