Williamson attacks Labour for inaction in Opposition

Communications minister Maurice Williamson has attacked Labour's comments on the new disclosure rules, declaring that 'after nine years in opposition, the best Labour can come up with is yet another inquiry.' But Williamson has called for his share of investigations - and has repeatedly rejected action of the kind he announced yesterday.

Communications Minister Maurice Williamson attacked comments on the new disclosure rules by Labour's Paul Swain late yesterday, declaring that "after nine years in opposition, the best Labour can come up with is yet another inquiry."

But the record shows that in nine years in government, Williamson has called for his share of reviews, investigations and discussion documents - and has repeatedly rejected as unnecessary action of the kind he announced yesterday.

Williamson first promised to facilitate competitive entry into telecommunications markets in 1991, shortly after Clear Communications took Telecom to court when it was unable to fulfill a local service contract with the Justice Department because it could not negotiate an acceptable interconnection agreement with Telecom.

In the case, which stretched on for four years, the true cost of Telecom's Kiwi Share obligations was a key issue, as was the profitability or otherwise of its local loop services.

In 1995, a Ministry of Commerce discussion document said the ministry's researchers were unable to obtain "sufficient information" to calculate the cost of Kiwi Share obligations, but concluded on the basis of American studies that the real cost to Telecom might be "much smaller" than Telecom contended.

The 1995 paper also said that while much of Telecom’s revenue came from activities outside the local loop, the local monopoly aided Telecom’s business in directories, cellular, tolls and other services.

It suggested a sample disputes regime which would give an independent arbitrator power to demand disclosure and to make judgements in the absence of one party in the dispute.

Williamson talked down any such prospect and reaffirmed his belief that "these things should be resolved by the parties".

Telecom and Williamson both hailed the eventual signing of an interconnection agreement between Telecom and Clear in March 1996 - five years after the dispute first arose - but Clear CEO Andrew Makin poured cold water on the celebrations, declaring the new deal to be "not the definitive agreement".

Although a number of companies have since signed interconnection agreements with Telecom, the clamour for a disclosure regime to be imposed on Telecom has persisted.

The new requirements appear similar to the disclosure element of BellSouth's so-called "Competition Quartet" paper, which the company touted to the government before eventually selling up its New Zealand network to Vodafone.

Williamson was on the attack after the announcement, saying it was "interesting to see the Labour Party talk about beefing up the information disclosure regime, the day the National Government announced such a change.

"I think Mr Swain must have also missed the fact that all major telecommunications companies have signed up to a number administration deed. This provides for telephone numbers to be independently administered and for the industry itself to determine the form in which number portability is provided."

"After 9 years in opposition, the best they can come up with is yet another inquiry."

Williamson also said Swain, Labour's Commerce spokesman, had used "an outdated report" from March last year that was "not consistent with standard OECD models" to criticise New Zealand's telecommunications market.

"If Mr Swain had referred to recent OECD tariff comparisons for residential national call tariffs, he would have seen that New Zealand was ranked 15th out of 29 countries."

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