The telecommunications industry has been given a "three month deadline" to resolve telecommunications numbering issues, or face regulation.
Communications minister Maurice Williamson's ultimatum marks a year since he declared himself "glad we are moving toward a unilateral portability agreement without the need for legislation" and six years since he first expressed optimism about industry-wide agreement on number portability.
It also follows last week's endorsement by Bill Birch of a telecommunications industry review commissioned by his predecessor, Winston Peters. The review raises concerns over the time taken by courts to resolve disputes, and interconnection principles and pricing.
It is to be followed in the next few weeks by specific reports on numbering regulation, information disclosure, penalties and remedies under the Commerce Act and industry monitoring. Departing cellular vendor BellSouth might assume some credit for the government's tack - these are essentially the same issues raised by BellSouth in the 'Competition Quartet' paper it released earlier this year.
In his announcement on Friday afternoon, Williamson described numbering questions as "complex issues that other countries have had difficulty in resolving. Some good progress has been made in New Zealand where competitors have obtained numbering resources and some already have number portability arrangements with Telecom.
"The issues that remain include a fair and independent process for administering and allocating numbers; portability for 0800 numbers, developing a cost-effective approach to long-term number portability, the development of dispute resolution processes
"I recently asked for the work on developing regulatory options to be accelerated. I have now received a detailed report which makes some useful recommendations for the future.
"Of the options put forward in the latest report, I am keen to see the industry working with the Ministry of Commerce to develop a proposal that involves voluntary independent number administration with access to a dispute resolution procedure.
"I want to emphasise, final acceptability of such an option would depend on whether it contained principles and procedures that were satisfactory to the Government, and in particular whether it adequately provided for the resolution of number portability," the Minister said.
If a regulatory solution is triggered in November, it is likely to include allocation and portability rules and procedures, the establishment of an independent number administrator, funded by industry, and access to compulsory arbitration, according to Williamson.