Forum: Telco rulebook needs rewriting

Sarah Putt looks at the TCF's role in the wider telecomms sector

There are a plethora of interest groups in this industry, but it is always been my view that the one users of ICT services really need to keep an eye on is the Telecommunications Carriers Forum.

The TCF is an organisation of companies that decides most of the rules by which the telecommunications industry operates. It currently has 17 members and together they serve the vast majority of New Zealand’s retail customers.

Not all members are equal; the amount the companies pay to be part of the TCF depends on their size and the more they pay, the bigger their say. According to the TCF website, tier one members pay the most — Telecom pays 40 percent, TelstraClear and Vodafone each pay 25 percent. The tier two and three members pay the remaining 10 percent (no more than $5000 per annum each). In the TCF’s 2009-2010 financial accounts tier one member fees were $581,426 and the remaining group fees were $29,501.

There are five TCF board members – Telecom, TelstraClear and Vodafone each have a representative and two members represent the tier two and tier three providers. In addition, TUANZ is a non-voting representative and there is an independent chair and CEO.

The TCF creates codes of practice for its members to follow and these codes are decided by working parties. There are working parties on copyright, customer complaints and dispute resolution, disconnection, interception, emergency service, and IP interconnection, Ultra Fast Broadband, to name just a few.

Any TCF member can nominate a staff member to join a working party and often outside companies, who may have a special interest in the topic, are invited to participate. The most difficult aspect of being a member of a working party is the time factor – staff can be out of the office for long periods trying to hash out a code that works for everyone. It can be hard for smaller organisations to afford the resource.

A code is put forward for public consultation before being approved by the TCF Board and then its members are invited to sign up. All codes are voluntary.

One thing the TCF doesn’t do is administer this country’s numbering system. That is looked after by something called the Numbering Administration Deed. All you need to sign up to the NAD is a New Zealand passport and $10,000 – for that you get access to +64 numbering blocks. It is an incredibly loose arrangement for governing what is an important national resource. The Commerce Commission and the TCF have been promising to sort it out for years. They haven’t.

Also promised by TCF chief executive David Stone a year ago is that the TCF would be reformed. “Work is under way to consider options for how the TCF can be funded in a fairer manner and how the levels of representation that go with it, rooted as they are in the imperatives of the past era, are not sustainable in the future,” is how he phrased in May 2010. The reforms have not as yet taken place.

Last week one of the TCF’s founding members, Paul Clarkin from WorldxChange, confirmed to Computerworld he had quit the organisation. He says the industry needs a strategic plan as telecommunications is undergoing a massive transformation – not only is the technology itself fundamentally changing but Telecom is structurally separating.

These are significant events which are not just issues for the telco industry to deal with – they are issues for all of us because they affect the platforms on which we will deliver ICT products and services (how do you think you will access your company’s data “in the cloud”?), not to mention the fundamental right of all New Zealand citizens have to decent phone service.

But as it stands, anyone could become a telco provider with very little investment – and they wouldn’t even be required to enable 111 calls.

Solving these issues code by code by code isn’t the answer. Clarkin is right when he says what is needed is a strategic plan. There is a role for the TCF in that, but there is a greater role for the New Zealand government.

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Tags tcfTelecommunications Carriers Forum

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