Inquiry points to open access to TV platforms too

TVNZ appears to be one of the big winners from the telecommunications inquiry report, with its view that 'all electronic communications' should be covered by light-handed regulation.

TVNZ appears to be one of the winners from the telecommunications inquiry report.

The report recommends "a single regulatory framework covering all electronic communications" - effectively chiming with TVNZ's submission that access to converged televison and data platforms should be considered alongside access to telecommunications networks in any legislation. The inquiry says "light-handed industry specific regulation (the Electronic Communications Act)" will be required.

The recommendation is a rebuff to Sky TV, which argued that digital TV services should not be considered by the inquiry. It also offers considerable encouragement to the emerging view of the government and the TVNZ board that the state broadcaster should not involve itself in network building, but instead supply programming through independent platforms - most notably Sky's digital TV service.

TVNZ spokesman Liam Jeory says a broader view of elecrtonic telecommunications was "always there in the terms of reference - the only difference was that we argued, rightly as it turns out, that they should consider convergence. When this issue was dealt with in Europe and Australia, they absolutely considered it. We're now basically operating in the same realm that the EU and Australia are operating in.."

Jeory says the inquiry's decision is important because "for the future, as far as TVNZ is concerned with distributing its signals, it [affects] the terms under which it distributes them. What the telecommunications inquiry does is cement in place by its recommendation that there be a fair, open process whereby one can get access through conditional access systems to your services, come of which may be complementary and some of which may be competitive.

"It cements the principle of fair and open access - and for those with first-mover advantage not to be able to use their services in a way that either denies competition or hinders the development of others."

The issue of open access has been troubling regulators in the US over the past year. America Online argued strongly that open access to cable networks be mandated - until it became a cable network operator itself by virtue of its merger with Time Warner. AOL Time Warner now promises to voluntarily provide open access to its cable platform.

Jeory says TVNZ set an example when it didn't use pricing or any other means to prevent competitors gaining access to its network arm, BCL.

"BCL could always have used its monopoly on the high sites to have denied the development of TV3. It did not do that. It provides that same services to TV3, Prime and Sky as it does to TV One and TV2, in a straightforward commercial manner. It opened up that system to everybody in a fair and open way and continues to run it in that form.

"What this inquiry is saying is that that principle now needs to be extended to other platforms - those that have now set up and those that may yet set up."

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