FAQ: minister responds to telecomms community

Aside from comments over developments taking place within the telecommunications industry, Technology minister Maurice Williamson has had little to say on government strategy for future telco quandRaries. Not only that, but there have been certain career issues that the minister has been busy with. With upheavals in government making interviews hard to get, Computerworld submitted four written questions to Williamson. The questions were selected on the basis that they are the most frequently asked by members of the tele-communications industry.

Aside from comments over developments taking place within the telecommunications industry, Technology minister Maurice Williamson has had little to say on government strategy for future telco quandRaries.

Not only that, but there have been certain career issues that the minister has been busy with.

With upheavals in government making interviews hard to get, Computerworld submitted four written questions to Williamson. The questions were selected on the basis that they are the most frequently asked by members of the tele-communications industry.

Re: the Coalition Agreement. Last year, when such details were worked out between New Zealand First and National, one of the promises was that the Commerce Act would be reviewed, particularly with regard to its implementation with-in the telecommunications arena. Is that policy still in place, and, if so, where are we up to on it?

The Coalition Agree--ment provided as a statement of general direction for tele-communications that the government would: “Amend the Commerce Act to provide for penalties when actions are brought by parties other than the Commerce Commission. Our preference is for the Commerce Commission and the Ministry of Commerce to address competition issues. However, if this does not produce effective competition, the government must be prepared to ensure it does — firstly by producing government policy guidelines on interconnect, transparency and number port-ability, and if necessary by amending the Tele-communications Act.”

The policy is still in place. It is expected that a discussion paper on penalties and remedies under the Commerce Act will be released for public feedback early in the new year.

The government has continued to monitor interconnection and number portability arrangements. In my view such monitoring has not indicated a case for amendments to the Telecommunications Act.

There is an apparent difference of approaches between Max Bradford and his views on regulating the power industry and Williamson’s view on regulating the telecommunications industry.

There are significant differences between the electricity industry and the telecommunications industry. In general, in the telecommunications industry prices have been falling for a significant period as competition has gathered strength. Moreover, this has been for both domestic consumers and for business users of tele-communications services.

Even more importantly, there has been continuing entry into the industry by new players, reinforcing competition. New Zealand now has some 14 international telecommunications services providers. Competition is well established in national services and has been reinforced as companies such as World-xChange, Telegroup and Telstra have entered the market during 1997. In the cellular market, Bell South is steadily gaining market share and now has over 15% of connections.

In local access services, Clear, Telstra and World-xChange have either started rolling out and providing their services or indicated their intention to do so in central business districts and for some provincial clients. Saturn has indicated its intention to provide residential local service commencing in Wellington in 1998.

In contrast, there is no significant residential facilities-based service being provided by competitors in the electricity industry. Hence, a different approach is being taken.

If overseas trends are anything to go by, the telcos and the power companies are arranging deals whereby the telcos can use the power companies’ utilities and lines. Does the government have any plans of a regulatory nature to deal with such an eventuality, and if so what kind of regulatory procedures will be implemented?

No specific regulations are planned to deal with such an eventuality at this point. Such competition would be welcomed as a significant additional contribution to telecommunications if it is provided. It is, however, generally true that such services are still at an experimental stage overseas and have not generally been rolled out on a fully commercial basis at this point.

The information disclosure provisions applying to the electricity retail industry would require that the costs of providing telecommunications services be handled in accordance with the regulations for disclosure purposes. Otherwise no particular regulatory procedures are envisaged to be required.

The two policies in place are in apparent opposition to each other, so which way do we go?

Because of the underlying differences in the industries, there is in reality no direct opposition between the two areas of policy.

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