Telcos battling over number portability will have to wait until May 10 for a Commerce Commission decision on a portability proposal from several of the leading companies.
The commission held a conference in Wellington between April 20 and 22 to consider the proposed numbering administration and portability agreement signed by Telecom, Vodafone, Telstra, Newcall and Teamtalk and hear submissions from other interested parties. The Telephone Number Administration Deed proposes an independent administrator for numbers but does not identify how the industry will move to full number portability. Other telcos — Clear, Saturn, WorldxChange, Compass and Global One — have said the proposed deed is likely to hold up true portability for as long as five years and have refused to sign. The deed also gives no indication of who will pay for upgrading Telecom's outdated equipment, and smaller players say Telecom may expect them to carry some of the cost.
The commission has given a draft approval to the deed but Clear and other non-signatories were hoping to influence its decision in their favour. A final decision is promised by May 10. Both TUANZ and international telecommunications users group INTUG have expressed concerns about the proposal, and TUANZ has made a submission asking for more consumer and government representation, more open decision making and a more tightly defined time frame. None of the involved parties are prepared to comment on how the commission reacted to their submissions, for fear of influencing the final decision.
While the Commerce Act prohibits competitors working together in anti-competitive agreements, the commission has said the benefits to the public are likely to outweigh the detriments. If the deed is accepted, other telcos will have to join to get access to numbers. If not, the Ministry of Commerce will ask Maurice William-son, Minister of Communications, to legislate a numbering mechanism along the same lines.
In Australia rivals are accusing Telstra of anti-competitive behaviour for holding up the transfer of local call customers. A number portability policy drawn up by Austel (now absorbed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Communications Authority) allows a customer to change their carrier and keep the same number with no noticable delay in connection or loss of clarity.
However, December 1998 deadlines for a primary code to be drawn up for service interconnection have been extended twice and the code is not expected to be complete before November this year.
The ACCC has now issued Telstra with a "competition notice" (the fourth Telstra has received) alleging anti-competitive behaviour and has threatened fines of up to $A40 million if it does not improve its practices.