There are two fundamentally important telecommunications events on this week.First we have the spectrum auction, with its exciting dog versus cat, clash of the titans, kill-or-be-killed battle of wills. On a weekly basis we are warned that the end of the auction is approaching and that we should brace ourselves for the impending culmination of all our hopes and fears. The crunch point is $38 million, it seems, and has been since July. If we get much more I’ll be surprised, and I’m sure the three big bidders for the 3G spectrum at stake will be as well. Actually, “bidding” is a bit of a misnomer — they’ve bid, then sat on their bids. Telecom has a block, as does Vodafone and Telstra-Saturn. They’ve all offered basically the same amount for their chunks and nobody has threatened their hold. It makes nonsense of the auction process, but ultimately it will be good for the end user who will hopefully get 3G spectrum so cheaply that New Zealand will become a test bed for (cheap) 3G services. The other major event is the telecommunications inquiry, headed by Hugh Fletcher. The inquiry is hearing verbal submissions in support of various written submissions and is, as I write this, knee-deep in statements like “Regulation’s bad, mmkay?” and “Regulation’s good, but not here, mmkay?” and so on. All the main players are responding in just the way you’d expect. Telecom thinks everything’s okey-dokey and it should be left alone. Clear would like us to unbundle the local loop and allow it to do all the things British Telecom (its owner) is doing only reluctantly back home. Vodafone would like to see regulation, but not in the mobile sector. The Deaf Association wants more access for deaf users, the police wants to ensure emergency calls still have priority. Rural associations want better access for rural folk and I’m sure if there was an urban users association (URBANZ or something similar) it would push for a better deal for urban users. I can’t see a submission from the Internet Society (ISOCNZ) on the draft report but given its propensity for statements that contradict its membership, that’s probably just as well.There’s one thing missing from all this. It’s something the auction won’t address directly and the inquiry seems to have lost sight of. It’s something the vendors involved appear not to have thought about through all this, although it should be top of their minds at all times. It’s you, the end user. How many of you have been approached by your telco and asked what you’d like 3G to offer? Have you been asked about the inquiry and whether you think we need a commissioner to sort out the industry? What is the minimum capability Telecom or the local loop provider should come out with? Do you even care about what is going on?I care. Hey, I’m paid to. The in-fighting and back-biting and submissions and counter-submissions are an endless source of entertainment and profit (a brief note to Clear — 400 pages is too many for any submission to any inquiry), but I’m tiring of it all.Here’s what I’d like to see: telcos providing technology solutions to business problems. When I’m working from home and realise my dial-up connection is too slow, I want to be able to look up a range of providers and sort out the best connection based on technology, not politics. I want to see proposals from Telecom, Clear, Vodafone, Ihug, Telstra-Saturn, Lloyd Group or whoever. I want to compare prices and capabilities and I want to make the best decision for me.Currently there isn’t a choice in the majority of New Zealand’s telecommunications services.For local calls — Telecom. For tolls, a handful of providers. For cellular, the same handful of providers. Only in Net provision do we have a large number of players and they’re being told to use the same system, via 0867, to connect users.The end user is being ill-served by all of this. We will pay the price for 3G connectivity, we will bear the brunt of any decision by the inquiry, or any non-decision. While there are a handful of users making submissions the majority of opinions being heard are from vendors and that doesn’t bode well.Take a punt — make a submission. Go on, it’ll be worth it in the end. Who knows, if enough of us do it, we might actually make a difference.Send email to Computerworld journalist Paul Brislen. Letters for publication can be sent to email@example.com.
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