Telecomms commissioner to be spared unbundling question

If the views of commerce and IT minister Paul Swain and Telecom chief Theresa Gattung prevail, the local loop unbundling question will not cross the desk of the yet-to-be-appointed telecommunications commissioner any time soon.

If the views of commerce and IT minister Paul Swain and Telecom chief Theresa Gattung prevail, the local loop unbundling (LLU) question will not cross the desk of the yet-to-be-appointed telecommunications commissioner any time soon.

“I am certain the question will be raised at the select committee [now considering the bill],” Swain says. But early consideration of local loop unbundling would be an unacceptable load to put on the commissioner in his or her first days in the job, he says.

“Overseas experience says [a change to LLU and consideration of regulations surrounding it] absorbs all your resources,” says Swain. LLU has been mandated in the Euopean Community, but some European telecommunications regulators and telcos are suggeting they're only doing it because they have to, Swain says.

The question as to who will take advantage of LLU is unanswered yet in many countries, and interest appears to be low, he says, probably because there is little or no visible profit in the exercise.

The commissioner’s priorities should be interconnection regimes and number portability, Swain says. The large LLU question should be left for later.

Swain says one of the key intents behind the Telecommunications Bill is to provide an ordered dispute resolution process to reduce the bickering and litigation which has driven the telecommunications industry here for more than 10 years. "And I’m sick of it,” he says. A tightly defined and constructive attitude to dispute resolution is preferable to competitors “whingeing to the Privy Council.”

In contrast to Swain’s comments on unbundling, Clear's corporate affairs head, Kevin Millar, thinks the LLU question should have been concluded before the commissioner starts work. “Why not unbundle?” he says. “It’s in accordance with international practice.”

Gattung also, not surprisingly, supports late attention to unbundling,

Telstra-Saturn's Deanne Weir says her company does not support local loop unbundling. “Efficient wholesaling of services is a far better solution.” But the wholesaling provisions in the bill are not the best, she says. She would like to have seen wholesaling of individual elements of service rather than just the complete services that Telecom defines. And Telstra-Saturn was “quite shocked” to see the government exempting residential local-loop services from the wholesaling provision, she says.

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