Swain meets LLU protesters

Communications and IT minister Paul Swain says unbundling the local loop is the 'most critical' issue facing telecommunications in the next decade although he isn't giving anything away as to his final decision.

Communications and IT minister Paul Swain says unbundling the local loop is the "most critical" issue facing telecommunications in the next decade although he isn't giving anything away as to his final decision

Faced with a group of protesters from the “Call for Change” movement yesterday morning, Swain said he was considering the submissions. There had been some in support of the LLU decision, as well as some opposing it, he said, but he declined to give any further information on the overall tenor of the response.

The Call for Change campaign, spearheaded by telcos TelstraClear, CallPlus, Compass and Ihug, has focused on the $84 a year extra the movement has calculated Aucklanders pay for having only one choice of telecoms company. The campaign was designed to raise awareness of the unbundling issue.

The Call for Change group yesterday presented bundles of paper including coupons clipped from newspaper advertisements, emails and records of web-page responses, claimed to represent the views of more than 60,000 New Zealanders opposed to the decision of Telecommunications Commissioner Douglas Webb and his Commerce Commission colleagues.

TelstraClear chief Rosemary Howard (pictured) says the lack of choice in telecommunications services for most of New Zealand reduces it to the state of a “third-world country” on the telecommunications front.

When Computerworld asked whether the movement was satisfied with 60,000 responses out of millions of telecoms users, Dick responded that it was a respectable total for a petition. Howard says the response shows the public want to see a change.

She says research following the campaign shows there is widespread concern about Telecom's “double standards”.

Telecom spokesman John Goulter says the market is already seeing plenty of competition and TelstraClear should be asked why it's only competing in those few lucrative areas.

He says the campaign has put up a red herring with its comments about line rental prices.

"The issue before the government is a review of unbundling with the aim of increasing broadband uptake. The issue of line rental charges is something of a red herring in that regard."

CallPlus co-founder Annette Presley says the line rental issue was chosen to highlight the lack of competition at a level most New Zealanders could understand and that if full unbundling were introduced other telcos could offer cheaper line rentals to the end users.

"Telecom has said home phone line charges won't drop if it faces competition, but that's exactly what's happened in Wellington and Christchurch. They've even said they charge differently because it costs more to serve isolated areas, even though Aucklanders pay the extra $84 per year too," says Presley.

Presley was in attendance yesterday as was David Diprose of Ihug, Karim Hussona, representing Compass Communications and Malcolm Dick from CallPlus.

In a written statement yesterday afternoon Swain said unbundling was "the most critical issue" facing telecommunications in the next decade.

He said the government is working hard behind the scenes in the lead up to his decision.

"I am determined to make the right decision, and ensure all the submissions are properly analysed … It is important we get certainty for the telecommunications market, and I will be announcing my decision in May.”

Cabinet will either accept or reject Swain’s decision and the changes to the Telecommunications Act will be implemented from there.

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