Telecom a worthy Christmas cause

Telecom is facing an identity crisis and I'm volunteering our help as it tries to rediscover itself.

In the giving spirit of Christmas I've thought of a cause for
Computerworld readers to support. It will test the readiness of some to put animosity to one side at this special time of year.

For those who find that impossible, what I'm proposing does provide a way out; you can still contribute, but without compromising your carefully nurtured ill will, by taking the opportunity to deliver a low blow. But in fact, by the time I've made my case, I'm betting you'll be happy to lend your support to a worthy cause. However you choose to respond to the challenge, creativity is what's called for.

Here's what we have to do. Telecom is facing an identity crisis and I'm volunteering our help as it tries to rediscover itself.

It may sound an odd assertion, that the country's biggest company is unsure of itself. Most New Zealanders, after all, would feel they know Telecom reasonably well. As befitting its size - and one or two other factors - it is the local company that has most frequently been in the headlines over the past decade or so. That's made us all pretty familiar with how profitable it is, what its level of service is like and the nature of its relationships with competitors.

In a nutshell, from numerous implacably fought campaigns in the courts of law and public opinion, we know Telecom as the company that believes in unfettered competition. A recent reminder of this came a month or so ago when it dismissed the recommendation of the government's telecomms inquiry that some form of regulator would help the industry run better.

So, not much of an identity crisis here, surely? Well, from the perspective of the user of Telecom services, or of a rival service provider, you wouldn't think so. It is, quite clearly, the biggest telco in the country, which allows it to suit itself as far as the rollout and pricing of new services goes. It knows its own importance, too. As the biggest company in the land, it accounts for the lion's share of equity on the New Zealand share market, a point which its chairman likes to bring to the attention of reckless politicians from time to time (mess with it, and you mess with the country's economic well-being).

All of which sounds like it fits with a sharp, confident self-image. But don't you believe it. In a fit of candour that will surely have Telecom's detractors flocking to support it, chief executive Theresa Gattung revealed in an exclusive meeting with Computerworld last week that, far from seeing itself as a corporate behemoth, Telecom feels itself hemmed in by much bigger foes. She might even have a point. Vodafone, while second to Telecom in the New Zealand mobile market, has worldwide turnover about 20 times greater than Telecom. Telstra, which has a foothold in Wellington through its Saturn alliance, is about five times Telecom's size in its Australian home market. And even loss-making Clear has cash from owner British Telecom (turnover in its most recent year about $70 billion) to help it over the hump. Can you feel a groundswell of sympathy for the underdog?

Here's how you can give it practical expression. Feeling the squeeze in its home market, Telecom is attempting to have a go on Telstra's turf, through the acquisition of AAPT. The real identity crisis, as explained by Gattung last week, is coming up with a new image that works for the company in both the Australian and New Zealand markets. She worries that it may be overly optimistic to count on those parochial Aussies taking Telecom New Zealand to their bosoms. A new name, therefore, is required. Your mission is to come up with one. I'll suggest one or two to get the ball rolling. How about PhoANZ? Or Teles.cum, maybe?

The best suggestion, as judged by an expert panel of Computerworld journalists, will win a fabulous prize. Suggestions to, by this Wednesday.

There's an extraordinary irony to Telecom's Australian manoeuvres; last month the then head of AAPT, Ron Nissen, called for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to require a dominant Telstra to provide wholesale pricing access to the local loop. That's precisely the same thing that's recommended in New Zealand by the report of the government's telecomms inquiry, and resisted by Telecom.

Anthony Doesburg is Computerworld editor. He can be contacted at Letters for publication should be sent to

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