The Green Party remains unconvinced by arguments against unbundling the local telephone loop and still believes the role of the newly created telecommunications commissioner should be extended to include broadcasting.
Telecommunications spokeswoman Sue Kedgley says the Greens want to see the telecommunications industry develop cheaper products, offer more choice and become more innovative, and in doing so she hopes New Zealand can limit the so-called digital divide.
“We believe the new regime will help to do that, but only if the commissioner is truly independent and is truly a referee for these kinds of disputes.”
Currently, says Kedgley, Telecom is the default referee for many of the industry’s wrangles simply because it is the incumbent and therefore involved every step of the way.
That’s not acceptable, she says. “Incumbents the world over have adopted the same tactics when it comes to unbundling — delay, delay, delay — and if we want to develop New Zealand as a knowledge economy, driven by e-commerce, then that kind of attitude is simply holding us all back.”
Kedgley says the wrangles over interconnection agreements and the rural sector are two good examples of the industry getting in the way of telecommunications.
“Alternative networks [to the local loop] are just too expensive to build. In the decade since Telecom was privatised only Telstra is willing to build its own network and even now that doesn’t look likely to go ahead.”
The role of the commissioner should be extended to include all electronic communication, as per the findings of the original telecomms inquiry. Kedgley says New Zealand runs the risk of building a new incumbent monopoly in the form of Sky TV in the digital space by ignoring the convergence of telecommunications and broadcasting. One part of the country’s digital network is regulated while another part is not, she says. “We’ve got one incumbent and we’re going about handing a similar level of control to a new player in a new segment.”
The party has previously questioned the role of political donations received from telcos. In May last year, just before the first reading of the Telecommunications Bill, Greens co-leader Rod Donald challenged the parties to come clean on any donations they have received from Telecom and other phone companies.
The Greens also support the idea of expanding BCL’s role in the tele-communications market. BCL is the broadcast arm of TVNZ and as such has a network of towers and transmission sites throughout the country.
BCL’s increased role also helps solve another problem, she says — that of funding for local television. “We can use BCL as a kind of third-party revenue stream for local programming and the new TVNZ charter.”