The former general manager of Telecom's Network group - who now works for Clear Communications - has dismissed Telecom's claim that forcing Internet users onto 0867 was necessary to protect the network.
Telecom officials emphasised the radical growth in Internet-related call minutes in the past year at a media briefing on its networks in Wellington last week (a graph showed the increase has become steeper since Xtra and Clear Net launched flat-rate monthly options).
They said that moving Internet calls onto the 0867 range - which means they travel over the same physical network but can carry extra signalling that goes up into Telecom's intelligent network layer, providing more information about when and where the load is - was essential if traffic over the PSTN was to be managed properly.
But Ken Benson, Clear's Networks director since he left Telecom last year, says the new number range is about thwarting competition, not about managing network load.
"We're asked to accept that 0867 is designed to protect the network by restricting Internet calls at times of outages and emergencies," says Benson.
"Even if you accept that assertion, anyone who understands Telecom's network knows that there are far better ways of managing demand.
"If protecting the network was the real issue, Telecom could divert Internet traffic at the local exchange and pass it via dedicated trunk lines to either the ISP or another carrier."
Benson says Telecom's justification for 0867 has shifted from the original explanation, which was that it was required to protect 111 calls.
"That was quickly proven to be falacious, too, because 111 calls have their own dedicated trunk capacity, quite separate from the trunk lines used for ISP and voice calls. The use of 0867 is also likely to cause more repeat call attempts, increase congestion at the local exchange and therefore put 111 calls at greater risk.
"New Zealand isn't unique in experiencing huge increases in Internet traffic. But we are unique in Telecom's unilateral mandating of 0867. No other major telecommunications company in the world manages its traffic in this way, and indeed in most countries it would be considered anti-competitive.
"If you look at best practice in virtually any country with a competitive local calling market, the solution is realistic investment to meet customer demand. Again, if network management was the real issue, that's the approach we would expect here."
Benson questions the fact that the 0867 number range does not apply to Telecom's own ISP, Xtra, and or to business customers.
"If the real object was to manage local Internet calls, wouldn't you expect 0867 to apply to all Internet users?"
Benson says the effect "and almost certainly the strategic aim" of 0867 was to sidestep interconnection payments to Clear.
"That means Telecom can close the door on a growing revenue stream for a competitor. It wouldn't be possible in a competitive market and it shouldn't be tolerated here," he said. "The most important issue is that the Internet is now essential to the country's economic future. We think access to the Internet is simply too important to hand over to the control of any one company."