Insider fears toothless commmissioner

Expect to see a telecommunications commissioner, but working for the Commerce Commission rather than independently, says an insider.

Expect to see the appointment of a telecommunications commissioner, but working for the Commerce Commission rather than independently, says a telecomms industry insider.

That was the betting ahead of the expected announcement this week of the government's response to the telecomms inquiry recommendations.

“The government will dilute what the inquiry recommended and instead of having an independent commissioner, which is standard practice all around the world, it will stick it in the Commerce Commission,” says the insider, who did not wish to be named.

“That wouldn’t surprise me at all. Why reinvent the wheel when there’s already an office in place?” says Ord Minnett telecomms analyst David Wallace. Wallace hopes the government will also address the issue of rural users.

“The real issue is if it says those in rural localities have to have the same level of access as those in an urban areas. That’s just a huge hole and the risk is that Telecom would say we’re not going to roll out new services.”

Computerworld’s source expects the issue of rural services to get particular attention in the government response.

“It will kick for touch on the issue of rural broadband and it will become part of a new working group it will set up.”

The source says the report will be watered down “just enough to appease Telecom and in doing so take away a lot of the sting we were hoping for.”

The Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ) was lobbying MPs in the lead-up to the government's response, sending them a document listing the reasons for adopting the inquiry recommendations. It claims users support the appointment of a commissioner.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman says he isn’t too concerned where such an appointee would be based.

“It’s not so much where they’re stabled as whether they retain their independence; so long as they are able to put together a centre of excellence or expertise so they can act in a proactive way.” Newman would like to see any commissioner have an “independent reporting line” to the minister rather than through the Commerce Commission itself.

“We don’t want this to become just another department of some established institution. The issue is too specialised and too crucial for that.”

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