Telcos refuse to sign number deed

WorldxChange and Global One are refusing to sign the Number Administration Deed despite Clear Communications and Saturn signing it last month. 'We're not signing because we think it's highly anti-competitive,' says WorldXChange chief executive Steven Stanford.

WorldxChange and Global One are refusing to sign the Number Administration Deed despite two of the leading objectors to the deed, Clear Communications and Saturn, signing it last month.

"We're not signing because we think it's highly anti-competitive", says WorldXChange chief executive Steven Stanford.

The Telephone Number Administration Deed was drawn up late last year to avoid government regulation on number portability. It was signed by Telecom, Telstra, Vodafone, Teamtalk and Newcall, but other telcos - Saturn, WorldxChange, Compass, Global One and Clear - refused to sign. The wording, they say, is not specific enough about the path and timing to be followed, and they do not believe it will lead to true portability.

It also fails to detail who would be responsible for the cost of upgrading Telecom's equipment to make true portability an option.

"If we signed it we'd be opening ourselves up to 'open chequebook' payments," says Stanford.

WorldXChange does not use many local numbers, so the company can hold on in the hope that "someone will see sense and recognise that if you're going to have a competitive market you can't have this sort of situation". If not, and the company is still locked out of numbers, "we'll look to move in behind another carrier", Stanford says.

Global One is in a similar situation, in that it has no immediate need for numbers. Craig Brandish, manager of commercial and regulatory affairs, says Global One has not signed the deed because "we believe it's better to work with the other players to find a more competitive structure - it's too open-ended at the moment". If the company finds itself in need of numbers, he says, "we may be able to buy them from another company, on a secondary market."

Clear, however, needs numbers too urgently to take this stance. After considering whether to challenge the decision in the law courts, it decided to sign instead because it believes the commission has not actually authorised any anti-competitive behaviour. According to Clear's reading of the decision, the commission only authorises one part of the deed - regarding restricting the supply of numbers - and does not authorise any aspect which might lessen competition. All other actions will therefore remain subject to the Commerce Act.

Clear chief executive Tim Cullinane says he remains "extremely concerned about the commercial coercion represented by this process" and has warned the government that Clear will take legal action if the process does prove to be anti-competitive.

In practical terms, he says, it provides no assurance that New Zealand customers will ever get number portability, in contrast to "every [other] developed country" which has mandated it. There is no assurance that consumers will gain "anything better than the present unsatisfactory and expensive call-forwarding option", and the deed leaves open the possibility that consumers will have to reimburse Telecom's network upgrade costs, he says.

Saturn corporate development manager Sean Wynne says the reason for signing was simple - Saturn needs numbers. "We completely and utterly disagree with the portability aspects of the deed, but we had a choice of signing under protest or not signing and putting ourselves out of business."

Although Clear and Saturn have now signed the deed, they are not yet members. The deed requires that new entrants be accepted by an independent administration body which has yet to be set up.

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