Nats slam power of telco watchdog

Less than a fortnight before the telecomms commissioner takes up the reins, National is already saying he has too much power.

Just a fortnight before the telecomms commissioner takes up the reins, National is already saying he has too much power.

If the National Party wins power after the election later this year it says it will immediately review the regulatory framework set up by Labour, with particular regard for the role of the commissioner and the Kiwi Share provision.

National has yet to finalise its policy on telecommunication, but spokesman John Luxton says the telecomms commissioner has been invested with an “enormous amount of regulatory power” that is probably unwarranted in such a role. Luxton says his party has “a certain amount of scepticism” as to what the role of the commissioner is. “I’m quite sure as soon as any case is made to the commissioner, if there is one made, it will be challenged through the normal court process.”

Douglas Webb takes up his telecomms commissioner role within the Commerce Commission on March 11.

Also key to National’s telecomms policy is the belief that the current regime is too regulatory. “Light-handed regulatory environment in New Zealand was acknowledged by the OECD as bringing about a world-leading sector. I think that approach had been successful and while theremay have been a need for some tweaking, what they've done is come in with a sledgehammer with the Telecommunications Bill," says Luxton. A more regulated market is likely to see less innovation coming out of the sector. "We'd be reviewing the existing framework with this in mind."

The Kiwi Share provision, which requires Telecom to provide free local calling among other things, would also fall under the National party spotlight. "What we'd be looking at is ways in which we can remove barriers to new players coming into the market. It's really how you can maximise the incentive for innovation to occur. Just with the threat of regulation that is incumbent in the new act you have the real potential for people to shy away from investing."

Specifically, Luxton says National is opposed to the "mandatory co-location and roaming that was rammed through at the last minute". Labour introduced a supplementary order paper with the Telecommunications Bill that required companies with cellular towers to allow other companies to also have access to the towers.

"We also want to see broadband access, particularly in the rural area which has yet to be addressed."

Luxton retires from parliament at the end of this term. He is the party's third spokesman on telecommunications since the last election.

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