Charities lose free local calls under new Telecom deal

Charity calls for philantrophy instead of commercialisation

Charities and not-for-profit organisations will no longer enjoy free local calls under Telecom’s new sponsorship deal — and they’re not happy about it.

Called Community Connections, the programme comes into effect this week. It replaces the Voluntary Welfare Organisation Sponsorship scheme that was introduced in 1990. Under that programme not-for-profits received discounted line rental and free local calls.

Under the new programme, however, not-for-profits will be billed as business customers but given some discounts, says Telecom spokesman Sean Martin. Local calls will no longer be free but provided at a 1¢ per minute discount — business customers currently pay 4.5¢/minute.

Telecom will also offer a 10% discount on not-for-profits’ total phone bill, which, unlike the old scheme, will also include other forms of telecommunications, such as mobile communications and internet access, as well line rental and 0800 number services, says Martin.

The new programme will enjoy the same funding as the old one, $5 million — despite starting up 16 years later. Not-for-profits will also still have to apply to be part of it, says Martin.

The eligibility criteria, according to Martin, is that the charities concerned must be accountable to the community and social services must be the primary focus of their activities. Some organisations haven’t been able to meet our criteria, says Martin. “[But] several hundred new organisations will begin receiving the sponsorship from August 1.”

Over 1,000 applications were received, which has corresponded with existing sponsorship recipients and contacted those organisations that didn't apply by mail, to make sure nobody was missed, says Martin.

The voluntary sector and existing Voluntary Welfare Organisation Sponsorship recipients were sounded out regarding the changes, says Martin, and the new programme was developed with their assistance. Telecom was also told the old scheme limited charities’ ability to take up new services.

However, an anonymous poster, which was posted on the Geekzone online forum, states that some organizations were not contacted by Telecom and were unaware of the changes which now threaten to ruin their budgets.

This is borne out by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of New Zealand, whose chief executive officer, Kate Russell, says she knows of several organisations that have been caught out by the changes to the sponsorship scheme.

Russell has looked into the new Community Connections scheme but is unimpressed by it. She points out that to be eligible charities have to be totally "brand loyal" and place all their services with Telecom — this includes their mobile phone service.

Currently, the Cystic Fibrosis Association uses Vodafone for its mobile telephone service. It would have to cancel that contract and shift to Telecom's 027 network, and take on a new phone number. This would be a costly exercise that would cancel out any benefit from the new programme. The new scheme might even mean charities would be barred from using Skype and internet telephony from other providers, says Russell.

She also points out that, under the new scheme, charities, must display Telecom’s logo on, for example, their websites and publicity material, as part of the sponsorship programme, Russell questions whether the grant, worth $700 - $800 to her organization, is “appropriate” given the Cystic Fibrosis Association asks for $5,000 or so from companies for displaying their logos on its site or other material.

Telecom should take a philanthropic approach rather than a commercial approach to its charity-support programme, says Russell, who plans to speak to the telco to about her unhappiness with the new arrangements.

Computerworld contacted the Ministry of Economic Development about Telecom's changes to its sponsorship scheme. The original scheme was not initiated by government, says the MED. It is not linked to the Kiwi Share and there is no regulatory requirement that Telecom provide discounts to charities, says the MED.

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