Telecommunications minister Paul Swain, who has just returned from a flying trip through Europe looking at telecommunications regimes in Ireland and Britain, says what he’s seen has convinced him New Zealand is on the right track.
“I think New Zealand is closer to Ireland than to the UK model but there’s lots we can learn from observing both countries.” Swain says there wasn’t anything he saw happening over there that made him think we should have done things differently in our telecommunications review.
“The inquiry team did a splendid job of assessing the environment and pointing out the problems we face — I think we’ve got a great foundation now to develop telecommunications in New Zealand.”
Unbundling of the local loop is a hot issue in the UK and Ireland at the moment, says Swain, mainly because European regulations demand it.
“I think we should observe what happens and whether it does actually deliver the kinds of services and benefits we want to see in New Zealand before we leap in.”
Swain says while there is great competition for customers in London or Dublin, the more remote the customers are, the lower the level of competition. “Unbundling isn’t changing that yet.” He says the UK in particular has become so focused on the unbundling issue it has almost forgotten about the customers themselves.
“The big call of the inquiry was that they didn’t recommend unbundling in New Zealand and I think that was the right thing to do for now.” Swain says he and the new commissioner will keep an open mind about the idea in future if it proves itself to work overseas.
“In Ireland they are firmly focused on the end user and that’s evident when you see the speed with which the regulator there moves.”
The Irish regulator has the legal power to order a change under the regulatory regime and have it enacted immediately. In Australia, for instance, any ruling can be argued in court and the status quo exists until the final appeal has been heard. Swain hopes to avoid that entirely by following the Irish lead and having decisions enforced until a court rules otherwise.
The Irish regulatory regime impressed Swain almost as much as its director, Etain Doyle. “She’s a very smart lady and she knows the regulatory regime and the industry very well.” Swain says he jokingly told her boss, his equivalent in Ireland, that he would offer her the commissioner’s job in New Zealand.
“That’s the kind of person we’re looking for — someone who has the respect of the industry and the ability to understand what is a very complex environment and to act quickly.”
Swain says the new regime will follow the government’s line of “as much market as possible, as much government as necessary” and he wants to appoint a commissioner who can negotiate, cajole and encourage the industry towards a solution before he or she has to impose a regulatory solution.