Chewing the fat over telecomms inquiry

This topic tends to be the preserve of Dial Tone columnist Paul Brislen, but, with time running out before the government's telecomms inquiry reports back, I figure he'll forgive me for trespassing on his turf.

This topic tends to be the preserve of Dial Tone columnist Paul Brislen, but, with time running out before the government's telecomms inquiry reports back, I figure he'll forgive me for trespassing on his turf.

I'll admit to having been spurred to action by the head of the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ), Ernie Newman, who generously bought me lunch the other day. The gesture was all the more generous because in a column a few weeks ago I took a swipe at TUANZ for having an employee of a telco (a TUANZ member) help it prepare its telecomms inquiry submission.

As we sat down to lunch and Newman bared his teeth, I was relieved that he wasn't intent on biting my head off but on chewing on a wild pig sausage. He assured me there were no hard feelings.

We ended up talking about the Hugh Fletcher-led inquiry and the realisation came to me that it was damned near all over.

The team will hand its report to the government on September 29; the government will mull it over in light of its political perogatives; it'll be adopted in part or full; legislative changes will be made to bring the report's recommendations into effect; and we'll all live with the consequences for the rest of time, or until there's a change of government (whichever comes sooner).

The inquiry process has been a model of transparency with the panel publishing its draft report at the end of June, making it - and all submissions received - readily available on the Internet.

There are likely to be few surprises, then, when its final report is handed over. We can pretty safely conclude, on the basis of the draft, that a recommendation to unbundle the local loop won't be one of the suggestions. And you can bet your house on the fact that the inquiry won't be recommending doing away with Telecom's kiwi share obligations.

As I said earlier, it was Newman and his pork sausage lunch that got me on to this subject, but the following thought was entirely my own: this once-in-a-political-lifetime review of telecommuncations is the moment to abandon the strictures of the kiwi share. I hasten to add that I'm totally in support of universal access to phone services at affordable prices.

I realise, also, that removal of the kiwi share obligation from Telecom means it or some alternative provider - and encouragement of alternative providers is the whole point - will have to charge subscribers in remote parts of the land more for service. But I believe that could be overcome by some form of subsidy.

So why replace a system that works - kind of - with some unthought-out, bureaucratic alternative? Because while the kiwi share is an obligation unique to Telecom, the incumbent can use it as a lever against efforts to bring it into line on issues like interconnection and number portability. Do away with it and an important bargaining chip is removed; bargain it away for agreement on number portability, say, and some meaningful progress in freeing up the market - and providing users with choice - will be the result.

Respectfully, Mr Fletcher, it's not too late to amend your report.

Anthony Doesburg is Computerworld's editor. He can be contacted at anthony-doesburg @idg.co.nz. Letters for publication should be sent to cw-letters@ idg.co.nz.

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