The government enquiry into telecommunications looks set to become a review of New Zealand’s whole readiness for the Internet age.
Acting Minister of Communications Trevor Mallard announced a wide-ranging review of the whole telecommunications sector last week.
“The telecommunications industry is vital to the development of the information economy,” he says. “It is critical therefore that we have a regulatory environment that delivers internationally competitive telecommunications services.”
As well as the expected examination of the Kiwi Share, network access and interconnection, the numbering plan, and bundling of competitive and non-competitive services, the enquiry is also to cover the development of an information economy.
The enquiry's focus also reflects the concern expressed by Minister of Commerce Paul Swain that it not get bogged down into relitigating old issues - of which there is no shortage.
This appears to be the reason why the terms of reference are not focused on whether or not the current environment is working. Instead, the enquiry team has been asked to report back on the best possible regulatory regime of ensuring that New Zealand gets the full benefit of the information economy.
The enquiry is headed by former Fletcher Challenge chairman Hugh Fletcher – no devotee of the no holds barred free market approach. The other two members are lawyer Cathie Harrison – who has worked for Telecom – and the Allan Asher, deputy head of the Australian counterpart to our Commerce Commission.
The Australian government has taken a far more hands on approach to telecommunications deregulation – as has virtually every other OECD country.
The government has already signalled its unhappiness with Telecom. Last week Mallard declared Telecom is definitely in breach of the Commerce Act in its 0867 numbering scheme, and that ministers had pressured Telecom into offering Clear a "quarantining" of the scheme for the duration of the enquiry.
The condition – that Clear guarantee its Internet traffic be kept within a certain level – was rejected by Clear as being too one-sided.
The enquiry is expected to meet with the main players and other interested parties over the next few weeks and put tighter a draft report on the current regime and make suggestions as to change.
After that public submissions on the draft will be invited. The final report is due to go to the government by the end of September.
As well as accepting written submissions, hearings will be held in the main centres.