Labour promises fast start on telecomms review

Given a clear-cut election result, Labour wants to have its inquiry into competition in the telecommunications market in motion before Christmas.

Given a clear-cut election result, Labour wants to have its inquiry into competition in the telecommunications market in motion before Christmas.

Both Labour and the government have been criticised by Australian telecommunications analyst Paul Budde, who released his third annual report into the New Zealand market this week.

Budde slammed current government policies as "outdated" but says Labour's plans for an inquiry represent too slow a response in a fast-moving industry.

Labour's commerce spokesman Paul Swain says he agrees with Budde on at least one key point - "that access [to the local loop] is provided for all other telcos at the same price that Telecom charges itself. That is what we're all after.

"There is a broad consensus on the problem - but there is not a broad consensus on the solution," says Swain. "Sure, you can have a heavily regulatory requirement and implement it very quickly. But what I want to do is improve the competitive environment - I don't want to potentially undermine the development of the industry.

"That is the subtlety of the solution that is required and I have not seen anywhere in the world that such a solution exists yet. It's a matter of doing it once, defining what the real problems are, and getting the New Zealand solution."

Swain says he is already working on terms of reference for an inquiry.

"I've got them into a shape that the first draft would be good enough to get quickly to the industry to get comment on after the election," says Swain. "Provided there's a clear-cut result on the 27th, it would be my intention to try and have the formal part of the inquiry, the people in place and the terms of reference, at least established before Christmas."

Swain says an inquiry would be tasked with "identifying solutions, not just the problem". He would expect a result within six months.

"Then, once we had broad agreement on the workability of the best options, we would want to have some legislative response - if that was required - within six months."

Swain is keen to emphasise that further regulation, or the appointment of an industry regulator, is not a given.

"The industry doesn't want a heavily-regulated regime either and I'm convinced there's a discreet solution that will allow us to make the market more competitive, but will be flexible enough to revisit after a period to see whether the goals have been met - and then to relax again, if that's the case."

Swain also says a Labour administration would take a different view to the government of the forthcoming 2GHz radio spectrum auction, which has been clouded by uncertainty and was recently postponed until the end of January at the request of carriers likely to bid for spectrum.

"Nowhere, as I understand it, has the government been prepared to look at potential anti-competitive issues. As a Labour government we would want to be satisfied that no one player was able to gobble up all the spectrum and use it anti-competitively.

"The government says there'll be some more spectrum available in two years - but why allow someone a two-year head start in the next generation of information and telecommunications technology?"

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