Aussie telecom industry regulators switched on and connected

More cooperation with regulator than in NZ

The head of the Australian Communications Industry Forum, Anne Hurley, painted a picture of her organisation as well connected with decisionmakers at all levels of the telecommunications environment across the Tasman when she fronted up at the Telecommunications Day conference held in Wellington recently.

Many members of her audience at the conference agreed that, in particular, the ACIF, which represents telecom suppliers in Australia, appeared to work more cooperatively with the regulator and the Australian Communications Authority (the government’s arm of the process) than does New Zealand's Telecommunications Carrier Forum.

ACIF has experienced seven years of regulated environment compared to a little over two years in New Zealand, Hurley notes.

In that time ACIF, in collaboration with the regulator (the Australian Commerce and Competition Commission) and the ACA, has formulated a number of codes governing the technical and procedural aspects of cooperation among providers and codes of practice dealing with treatment of the consumer.

The framework is referred to as one of "industry self-regulation" but it is actually "co-regulation".

"We could even say ACIF and ACA are in a regulatory partnership," says Hurley.

The process of effective industry regulation was doubtless helped by the fact that there is a stronger apparatus to enforce compliance with such codes in Australia. For example, the ACA is able to bring court action which can result in fines of up to $A250,000 for a non-complying provider.

There is no equivalent power in New Zealand's Telecommunications Act and Tuanz chairman Graeme Osborne suggested in his address to the conference that stronger enforcement is needed.

Also, the membership of ACIF, particularly its working committees, is broader than its nearest equivalent — “more like TCF plus Tuanz", as one delegate put it.

And there seemed to be more commitment from the top level, says Tuanz chief executive Ernie Newman, pointing out that no telco chief executives were there to hear Hurley’s address alongside Newman and TCF head Malcolm Alexander.

ACIF and TCF are not directly comparable bodies, according to Alexander. "But there are lessons to be drawn” from the Australian experience, he said, speaking after Hurley.

ACIF also has about 10 times the budget of New Zealand’s TCF, he points out. “You can’t deliver something like number portability on a shoestring; it needs papers written and consultants employed," he says. "A $350,000 budget is very low and you get what you pay for.”

The “counterfactual” situation — without a TCF — would not be a free market, he says, but more regulation.

On the sore number portability question, Alexander points out that the Number Administration Deed, wrung from providers by a threat of government action, is merely a legal agreement. “It’s not about how you run a regime.”

The TCF, he says, has that kind of work well under way and will deliver appropriate industry and consumer codes.

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