The Telecommunications Inquiry is many months away from releasing its findings, but the submissions are in, and are available to the public on the inquiry's Web site (www.teleinquiry.govt.nz).
That is, of course, if the submitter will allow their submission to be made public, but thankfully most appear to be happy enough for the world to see their point of view. I can only encourage those participants who haven't yet made their submissions public to do so. It is of benefit to all of us to be allowed to see them.
In the meantime, there are a handful of submissions out in the wild for all to see - including Telecom's.
To cut a long story short, Telecom suggests avoiding the whole unbundling of the local loop issue. Instead, it recommends parcelling out the more odious duties it has under the Kiwi Share component of its constitution and possibly selling them off to other companies.
This must not be allowed to happen.
In 1990 Telecom was sold off, lock stock and barrel, for a pittance. I don't know if the government at the time didn't realise just what a nation's telecommunications infrastructure was worth, or if they were simply incompetent or if they just did what the Magic Eight Ball told them, but it was a mistake.
By selling the local loop, toll calling set-up, both directory services as well as ownership of the numbering scheme to one corporation (or in this case, one conglomeration), the government basically institutionalised a monopoly which has retained its complete control if not an outright dominance of the market until today. Let's look at the current state of play.
No other company offers a local calling option, with the exception of Saturn Telstra in a handful of wealthier suburbs in Wellington. No other company can afford to offer DSL broadband connectivity, because of Telecom's pricing strategy which, I am reliably told, would lead to any ISP offering the service going under within six months.
There is only one serious competitor to Telecom for cellular calls. Toll calls are really the only part of the Telecom package that have had competition for any length of time, although costs are still quite high by my reckoning and there's all that nonsense with having to dial 050 prefixes which Telecom seems to insist on as much as possible.
That leaves the ISP market and it's this area, the incredible growth area, that Telecom is still trying to control. DSL is only available as and when Telecom decides, although admittedly wireless broadband is becoming more of a feasible alternative.
Really, the only thing standing between Telecom and outright control of the telecom market is the Kiwi Share provision which demands three things. Telecom must provide free local calls; Telecom must not put the line rental costs up at a rate faster than inflation; Telecom must not degrade the service offered in rural areas.
Despite posting record profits, most of which go straight into shareholders' coffers and always have done at the expense of the infrastructure, Telecom declares these three provisions to be arduous and unnecessary and a burden it can no longer bear. Better, it says, to flog off these requirements somehow and let other companies offer the services to rural folk - users who already get a bum deal because Telecom can't or won't upgrade the lines enough to offer Internet access of an acceptable level.
I've heard from a number of users and ISPs alike trying to work in rural areas about constant line interference, drop outs, "brown outs" in service and the like. It behoves us as a nation to ensure all our citizens get good quality access to the Internet if only so we can truly become a knowledge economy.
If Telecom gets its way anyone beyond the CBDs of our main centres will become second class citizens in our knowledge economy and that is something I find abhorrent. I'm glad to see ihug offering high-speed access via its SatNet service to rural areas and I applaud the Woods for that initiative.
It's just a shame Telecom views the rural user as a burden rather than a marketing opportunity - I know how much I and my extended family have benefited from the Internet and I can't help but think the rural user would be a major asset to New Zealand as a country and the Internet as a whole.
More revelations are bound to emerge as the submissions are revealed to the public. Stay tuned.