Number portability progress still slow

Number portability - identified in December as a priority in telecommunications by the new coalition government - still looks like being a long way off. The main players met last week at the behest of the Ministry of Commerce but little progress was made.

Number portability — identified in December as a priority in telecommunications by the new coalition government — still looks like being a long way off.

The main carriers are currently involved in bilateral talks to set commercial arrangements for the service. BellSouth and Telecom met last week, in a discussion facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce’s communications division. However, little progress was made.

“It was another small step in what has been an extraordinarily long road,” says BellSouth’s manager of intercarrier relations Peter Stiffe. “Our understanding of each others’ position is a little clearer now, that’s all.”

The parties won’t reveal much about what those positions are. Telecom spokesman Clive Litt says there is an agreement that the discussions will be kept confidential, and won’t talk about the negotiations. The other parties are a little more chatty but won’t go into details. “Telecom has its commercial position,” says Stiffe, “and the pricing they want is based on that. Our own commercial position is that the prices should be based on the additional costs of providing number portability. We’ve provided our own price, based on those costs, and there’s a very wide gulf between the two.”

There are likely to be further meetings late this month. “This is a very important issue to us, but at the end of the day it would not be sensible for us to accept a commercial deal that ended up replacing one barrier for change — which is the current lack of number portability — for a different barrier.”

Clear Communications, meanwhile, has yet to meet with Telecom. However, it is unhappy with Telecom’s position thus far, and says there is insufficient information from the larger telco as to what their offer entails.

Clear spokeswoman Janiene Bayliss says Telecom has made a price offer but has not said what that price covers. “The crux of the issue is that Telecom has said ‘here’s a price’. The industry has said ‘what are we getting for that price?’, and Telecom has been unwilling to state or clarify that. It’s a bit like buying a car without seeing it, or having a test drive.”

There are several different ways of providing number portability, as well as issues such as maintaining the quality of the call as it is routed to a different number have to be addressed, she says. “And we have to ascertain what we’re getting for that price. That’s not to say the price offered by Telecom is acceptable, either.”

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ) says the carriers are not approaching the issue with the right frame of mind.

“The bottleneck seems to be that none of the parties are approaching the commercial issues with any sense of reality,” says executive director Grant Forsyth. “What we are looking for is cost-based pricing between the carriers so that a service can be introduced that can be undertaken at a price users can reasonably afford.”

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