The government must legislate to dismantle Telecom's monopoly position if Saturn Communications, and other smaller telcos, are to succeed in New Zealand, says Saturn chief information officer Jenny Mortimer.
Smaller telcos like her own, she says, lack the money to take Telecom to court on issues like number portability and are relying on Clear Communications to carry on the fight.
The Commerce Commission's recent decision to accept the numbering deed signed by Telecom and four other telecommunications companies -- Telstra, Vodafone, Teamtalk and Newcall -- will hit Saturn more than most, she says, "because we've got our own lines ... we'd rapidly run out of number ranges if we don't sign it. It's just becoming more and more obvious that Telecom is in a monopoly position, and if we're going to be able to offer competitive services, the government is going to have to step in."
If Clear was to take the initiative and appeal the Commerce Commission's decisions, Saturn would be grateful and "happy to do our bit, too."
Planned IT developments for Saturn over the next year include additional interfaces and services to be added to the customer-care package used by staff answering calls from customers. "Our customer care is complex because we've got a lot of services. Every person has to know about telephone, television and Internet with complex packages, discounts and promotions."
Longer term, Saturn hopes to expand into Christchurch and Auckland. The IT systems were chosen with development in mind, so Mortimer has no doubt they will be up to the task. But Saturn can't compete with Telecom's pricing.
"Of course, we're interested in places like Christchurch and Auckland but we need a level playing field.
Because Telecom can't provide true portability yet, it uses call forwarding. Not only does the customer then lose out on services like voicemail, but the new telco has to pay Telecom for the call forwarding.
"They're making money hand over fist on it, and the complexity of the process is quite horrendous -- it's inefficient and sometimes the customer is negatively affected."
Saturn has the call transferred to a message telling callers the new number," says Mortimer. "That's cheaper for us than transferring to the new number. It's not number portability at all, but it minimises our exposure to Telecom's charging."
In a recent twist, Saturn has been able to turn the tables, charging Telecom for the use of its lines. Saturn set up its first Internet access service in December 1998 "primarily because we were losing money", says Mortimer. When Saturn customers logged on to an ISP using a Telecom number, Saturn had to provide them with free local calls. But Telecom then charged Saturn three cents per minute for the connection. " So we set up our Internet service to encourage our customers to stay with us, and now we're managing to bill Telecom because their customers come to our Internet service."