Cabinet agrees on Telecomms Act revamp

Expect more flexibility and less 'commercial gaming', says Cunliffe

A number of changes to the Telecommunications Act have been proposed by Cabinet and will go forward as a Bill to Parliament, election results permitting.

The amendments, first mooted by then-Communications Minister Paul Swain last year, are "implementation changes" directed at speeding up processes under the Act without changing its substance.

The changes include a provision for key access terms and conditions to be “set upfront by the Commerce Commission on a multi-company basis”. This means all telcos and ISPs will be able to work to an initial set of conditions, rather than having to conduct multiple sets of bilateral negotiations.

Similarly, telcos and ISPs will be able to get “quick access” to terms and conditions set by the Commission, and will no longer be trapped in long-term commercial arrangements less advantageous than the regulated conditions. There has been a degree of “commercial gaming” with such long-term contracts, says Communications Minister David Cunliffe.

The Minister will now be able to accept, reject or call for reconsideration of part of a Commission recommendation, rather than having to deal with the whole proposal as a single entity. That requirement, Cunliffe indicates, affected the Government’s decision to reject local-loop unbundling. “LLU was a line call,” he says. However, asked whether the LLU decision might have been different under the proposed Act, Cunliffe declines to “discuss hypothetical counterfactuals”.

Other suggested amendments are directed at “improving the ability of the Commerce Commission to take enforcement action in the High Court where required”. At present, an action can only be brought by affected parties, which can be difficult and costly for small companies.

The time periods for regulation of services will be made more flexible, allowing two-, three- or five-year extensions rather than just the current two years.

The Minister will be able to make network interoperability standards mandatory “where a majority of the industry agrees”. How that majority will be judged will be a matter for a select committee to decide during the normal progress of the amendments into law, Cunliffe says.

The amendments also provide for the setting up of independent consumer complaints resolution schemes for telcos and, “if necessary”, ISPs.

The proposed amendments also give the Minister the power to set standards for availability and quality of the emergency contact services.

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