All together -- jump

Apologies in advance for going on again about unbungling -- er, unbundling -- of the local phone network.

Apologies in advance for going on again about unbungling -– er, unbundling -– of the local phone network. Yes, it’s that report, issued in late December by telecomms commissioner Douglas Webb, which recommended the government not regulate to force Telecom to open up its last-mile network to competitors.

Dismay at the recommendation is mounting. It’s as though all those with an interest – that is, something to lose -- were initially too stunned to say anything; but they’re now finding voice. Let’s hope they’re not too late.

The hope rests on Paul Swain, the government minister who will digest the report, plus a batch of submissions responding to previously unseen material in the document, before urging Cabinet to accept or reject it. That will be in May.

To recap briefly, the excuse for being stunned was that Webb’s recommendation was the opposite of that in a draft report, released in September. Between one report and the next, a new batch of numbers have been concocted supporting a new conclusion. Perplexing, to say the least. And to all appearances, to the benefit of no one but Telecom.

An angry chorus of Telecom’s competitors are claiming phone subscribers are paying about $80 a year more per line today than they would if the network were unbundled. So what, seems to be the reaction of IT managers, whom we’ve periodically rung round for views on the unbundling debate.

Yet the issue is bigger than line rentals. Consider this: last year we reported that Christchurch City Council saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by switching from Telecom to TelstraClear. Christchurch is in the happy position of being able to choose. Quite apart from putting pressure on residential line rentals, forcing Telecom to open the network between exchange and subscriber gives rival providers the opportunity to offer a full range of services. Then more organisations could get the same benefit as Christchurch City. Why can’t IT managers see that, and why are they (you) not jumping up and down about it?

Jim Higgins, who once headed the grandly titled World Communications Laboratory (WCL), a Wellington-based outfit charged with bringing commercial broadband to the country, has a theory. He thinks IT managers are focused simply on picking the best deal from the paltry range of available options. If they manage to do that, they’re not too concerned about what they might be missing out on.

But he’s equally sure they’re missing out on plenty. In the heady days of the WCL, a 1994 radiology conference in the capital witnessed telemedicine in action. Higgins says the excitement of that revolutionary application would have been lessened if he’d known that, 10 years on, Telecom’s would-be competitors would remain in its local loop stranglehold.

Computerworld shares Higgins’ disappointment at lack of progress and bafflement at IT management indifference to the issue. An unbundled local loop can only lead to more choice for more customers. Isn’t that worth jumping up and down about?

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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