Government endangering our future over Telecom's 0867 scheme

So the government's decided that Telecom's move on the 0867 numbering scheme is fair, above board and in keeping with the philosophy of the Kiwi Share provision.

So the government's decided that Telecom’s move on the 0867 numbering scheme is fair, above board and in keeping with the philosophy of the Kiwi Share provision. I’m sorry, but Telecom’s move goes against the motive behind having a Kiwi share in the first place. I could be convinced that it meets the wording of the provision but that’s not the same thing and for Maurice Williamson and Bill Birch to stand up and say it’s okay is a poor excuse for a telecommunications policy. The Kiwi Share itself is quite straightforward. It’s contained in the first schedule of Telecom’s constitution, and was written when Telecom became an SOE just before it was sold off. Here is the relevant clause. 5.2.1 Local Call Charging — A local free-calling option will be maintained for all residential customers. Telecom may, however, develop optional tariff packages which entail local call charges for those who elect to take them, as an alternative; Clearly the intention is that Telecom can’t charge for local calls. Nothing is said about the user connecting via telephone instead of PC. Nothing is said about what purpose the phone or the line is put to. I am willing to hear Telecom’s arguments about its point of view on calls to the Internet. It does make sense to sort out just how these calls are handled because they are radically different to the traditional voice calls of the past. And I can see that the Kiwi Share has not literally been violated — yet. Telecom is allowed to develop "optional tariff packages" so long as they are "an alternative" and are for "those who elect to take them", but do we really trust Telecom to keep those promises? I don’t — not after Telecom used the old chestnut that "it’s all to protect 111 calls" which is complete nonsense. Emergency calls already receive priority — they have all the protection they need. Telecom has said: "In our view [Kiwi Share] does not oblige Telecom to provide unlimited free data calls to the Internet." In fact, it goes even further and says: "Telecom may be entitled to charge for all local calls to the Internet, we have elected not to do this." That’s big of you, I’m sure. These quotes, by the way, are taken from Telecom’s written response to questions posed by the Internet Society and the whole letter can be found at: www.isconz.org.nz. The intention behind the Kiwi Share was to protect individual New Zealanders’ rights to free local calls, not their right to free local calls so long as it’s not to an ISP. Not only is it wrong for Telecom to decide otherwise, it’s wrong for our government to let it. For government to go one step further and actually endorse the move astonishes and appalls me. Aren’t we striving to be a knowledge-based economy (KBE)? Aren’t we trying to be a world-class information centre? Doesn’t government mean any of those wonderful things they all stood up and declared not so very long ago, or were they just humming along with what they perceive to be an election-winning strategy? I for one did not elect Telecom officials to decide where and when the Kiwi Share can be applied. I did not vote for a backroom lawyer to decide that data calls are second class citizens to voice calls just because that suits Telecom’s current marketing strategy. Let’s be blunt. This whole new "network" is nothing more than a marketing exercise on Telecom’s part. The same lines are being used, the same exchanges. Sure, it’s a more intelligent way of managing the network, but it’s the same stuff going over the same cables. It neatly gets around Telecom having to pay Clear over $20 million in call termination charges and it gives Telecom access to all its competitors’ customers’ demography — how often they surf, where they go, what they want and so on. How soon will it be before Telecom starts targeting the cream of the crop with offers to come over to the dark side? Government certainly seems incapable of stopping Telecom. I question whether the incumbents even want to. We’ve got a minister who repeatedly stands up and defends a monopoly all the while "threatening" action if it doesn’t toe the line. I seem to spend a lot of time in this column telling Maurice to get his act together but now he’s gone too far. Telecom can’t be allowed to control access to the Internet, whether it breaches the spirit of the Kiwi Share or not. It’s far, far too important to sit back and let this happen. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K  reporter. He can be reached at paul_brislen@idg.co.nz, or phone: 0-9-377 902. For publication copy letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz

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