The Internet Society of New Zealand will confirm its official position on Telecom's 0867 Internet call initiative today, after consultation with members.
A draft position paper released on Friday questions Telecom's claim that data calls lie outside the Kiwi Share's definition of "ordinary residential telephone service" noting that "long period residential data calls for teleworking and recreational purposes were common and growing" in 1988, when the Kiwi Share document was written.
The draft paper also expresses concern that "Telecom reserves the right to determine what constitutes a data service number"; raises the issue of "intangible" losses, such as competitive advantage lost to Telecom Xtra and other services unaffected by the move to 0867; and demands that Telecom give legally binding assurances to ISPs over the level of service on 0867 numbers.
Although some in the Internet sector have accused Isocnz of failing to act strongly enough in the face of Telecom's surprise announcement, it seems to have drawn out more answers from Telecom than anyone else has.
Isocnz representatives met with Telecom to discuss 0867 issues on June 25. Although Telecom had a list of questions from the society's members 15 days in advance, it missed last Wednesday's deadline for a written response. The response, signed by Bruce Parkes, manager of Telecom's industry services unit, eventually arrived on Friday.
In it, Telecom defends its view that the Kiwi Share "does not oblige Telecom to provide unlimited free data calls to the Internet. When the Share was struck in September 1990, use of telephone lines by residential customers for Internet purposes was not a use which formed part of 'ordinary residential service'."
The statement says that Telecom has "no plans" to introduce a charge for 0867 calls for residential customers, but stops short of a guarantee that local data calls will remain free, noting that "it is impossible to predict the future, particularly in an industry where technology and its applications are changing so rapidly."
Telecom restates its case that forcing Internet users on the PSTN to begin dialling their ISPs on the new 0867 numbers is a necessary step to preserve the integrity of its network.
Although granting that 111 calls already receive priority in the Telecom network - and that there is no immediate threat to such calls - the statement sticks to its widely-criticised claim that the change was necessary to protect emergency services.
"Telecom cannot risk a situation in which 111 could not be accessed because of the volume of Internet traffic. Telecom would act to limit access for Internet traffic (but not affect existing calls) if it saw the potential for 111 calls to be affected. Such action would be highly unusual and typically the consequence of a network overload or emergency. However the integrity of the 111 service is paramount and Telecom must be prepared to respond to such situations."
Nonetheless, Parkes says he believes there has been "a misperception that with 0867 Telecom is going to provide a significantly degraded service for Internet calls" and offers the promise of better service "in the long term overall" for both voice and Internet users.
Parke says 0867 will "for the first time give Telecom detailed information of Internet traffic flows over its network and will hugely improve our ability to forecast and plan our investment in a way which will benefit all users."
But there is no broad guarantee of service for ISPs on 0867 - only an invitation for individual ISPs to negotiate service level agreements for "certain services" directly with Telecom.
The statement repeatedly insists that Xtra is treated in the same way as any other ISP and says that where "0867 and IPNet calls (including Telecom Xtra calls) have an equal effect on any part of the network then they will be treated the same."
But it would seem that no other ISP is likely to be able to merge its own dial-up hardware with IPNet, as Xtra has done.
Telecom's failure to consult with its customers and industry interests before its announcement of the 0867 changes is thought to have been one of the major issues at its meeting with Isocnz representatives, but not apology is forthcoming from Telecom in the statement.
Ironically, Parkes admits that subsequent discussions with ISPs have uncovered a host of service opportunities" that might be provided under 0867.
The full text of the statements by Isocnz and Telecom can be found at: