Tinker bill

It's been three years since the Telecommunications Act came into being, yet some days it seems like an eternity. Can anyone remember back to the bad old days of the absence of commercial negotiation, high court action, 0867 and Lloyd Group?

It's been three years since the Telecommunications Act came into being, yet some days it seems like an eternity. Can anyone remember back to the bad old days of the absence of commercial negotiation, high court action, 0867 and Lloyd Group?

I know I can because, paradoxically, while on some days it seems like a lifetime ago, on others it seems like the day before yesterday.

The act has certainly stimulated the industry, but sadly the industry is that of telecommunications legal experts rather than network development staff. As far as I can tell, Telecom, TelstraClear, Ihug, CallPlus, Vodafone, WorldxChange and all the rest will have spent millions on legal fees, advisers' fees, consultancy fees and accountants without actually delivering anything new to end users.

Let's look at the changes that have made it through to the end user since the act came in to effect in 2001. Companies like BCL, Woosh and Counties Power have burst on to the scene; well, they're expanding from a zero base, at any rate, and could yet make a serious dent in the Telecom monopoly. Telecom itself is now offering more than one flavour of JetStream -- it's offering four. These are JetStream Starter, two different 256kbit/s plans and full-speed JetStream. Both Vodafone and Telecom are offering faster mobile networks and Vodafone and TelstraClear have stated plans to build 3G networks in the coming year. Most ISPs today offer free antivirus filtering at the server and increasingly an anti-spam service.

Trouble is, not one of these things has been brought about by the Telecommunications Act.

Pricing for the end user has not moved one jot. Telecom charges exactly the same for its full-speed JetStream plans today as it did then. Broadband user numbers are rising, but at such a slow rate it's moving us backwards down the OECD list. Mobile numbers are reaching a plateau, which is understandable seeing as how everyone in the land has as many cellphones as they can possibly carry. Most, however, are on low-value prepay plans with very little incentive to move up the food chain in part because of perceived high call costs, either fixed-to-mobile or mobile-to-mobile.

All that the act has brought us has been a ceaseless round of negotiation between telcos that may or may not have led to a reduction in costs but certainly hasn't touched the end user's wallet. From that respect, the act has to be labelled a failure.

It's clearly time for a revamp of the legislation. We need to see the introduction of a new measure for assessing regulatory involvement -- will the customer benefit? -- since it seems to me that's the last thing on anyone's mind at the moment. We need a telco ombudsman if only so we can put to rest some of the ceaseless complaints about Telecom's usage meter, the length of time decisions take to be reached, the price of national bandwidth, the terms and conditions users are forced to accept, the TSO and all the other chestnuts. There's provision within the act for the minister to request a review and it's high time he exercised that right.

Brislen is Computerworld Online'sreporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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