BellSouth will be wary of any solution to telecommunications numbering that resembles anything like the Telephone Numbering Advisory Group (TNAG), which it quit earlier this year.
Telecommunications companies seem generally happy with the thrust of the recent Ministry of Commerce report on numbering, which recommends setting up voluntary independent number administration with access to dispute resolution to resolve numbering issues — but there are still some concerns.
BellSouth corporate communications manager Mark Champion says BellSouth is aware of the "failure" of TNAG, which it quit in May after frustration at a lack of progress and concern over Telecom's dominance.
"We would be very wary of any industry solution that bore any resemblance to the type of veto that the dominant player had over that organisation — and I'm sure the minister would too, given his public statements up until now." Communications Minister Maurice Williamson has given the telecommunications industry until November 30 to resolve the numbering issue or he might start regulatory action.
Champion says BellSouth supports arbitration provided it's timely and truly independent. "The mechanics of when that arbitration kicks in is part of the detail that would need to be considered very carefully."
He says BellSouth believes an effective number administration system should be independent of any particular operator, and any system should not give any operator the ability to stall or thwart independent administration of the numbering plan.
He says the industry should fund any number administration system.
"We presented our solution to the minister complete with suggested legislation back in February and we're all in favour of a speedy resolution of it ...we don't feel as if we've dragged the chain at all. We believe we've been leading it, and we're pleased to see the minister has accelerated his interest in it."
Clear's David Stone is also supportive of the arbitration proposal, rather than having Telecom as the final arbiter. He says there has been no detailed discussion of what the structure should be, but he believes it should be an industry-funded body.
He says it's an incremental process, and he believes the latest move is a step further than has been made before.
"We applaud that. You can't prejudge the outcome, but we're going into it in good faith and I believe the rest of the industry is going into it in good faith."
He says Clear doesn't necessarily agree with all of the report but believes it's heading in the right direction.
Telecom spokesman Clive Litt says there would be significant costs in moving to a large-scale solution. The ministry report estimated the costs of a long-term solution (major hardware and software upgrades) at between $50 million to $100 million.
He says genuine progress has been made. He points to the fact that the WorldxChange local access interconnection agreement signed last week is the fifth one to be settled.
The report points out that local tele-phone numbers can currently be ported using call forwarding but that provides limitations which include capacity, slight delay and not providing for some enhanced services (such as caller identification).
But Litt says the current system works, and is economically rational.
"Call forwarding at the moment seems to be a rational and cost-effective way of doing it and the other solutions have big price tags, that would have to be paid for somehow."