Clear denies minister's "misinformation" charge

Clear has shrugged off an accusation by Communications Minister Maurice Williamson that it spread misinformation about number portability. Clear is standing by the claims, which were first made in a newsletter in December.

Clear has shrugged off an accusation by Communications Minister Maurice Williamson that it spread misinformation about number portability.

Williamson told last week’s TUANZ annual general meeting that Clear had made the claim in a newsletter that Australian regulator Austel has prevented carriers on that side of the Tasman from charging for porting each other’s numbers, as Telecom here wishes to do. Williamson said this was not true.

He also said that there are ample precedents for businesses charging customers extra to carry their custom for a competitor — pointing out, for example, that banks will add a fee if someone uses an ATM card issued by another bank at one of their machines.

“It ill befits Clear to spread this misinformation.”

Clear spokeswoman Janine Bayliss says Clear had no such intention.

“Our information was given to us as being accurate and correct. The fact is that number portability in Australia has not been finalised.”

Bayliss says Clear issued the newsletter after Telecom offered a number portability charging regime to the other telcos in December last year.

She says Clear’s aim was to quantify the charges that Telecom “is trying to impose” and highlight its implication on the market place.

“Which is to raise prices,” says Bayliss.

Clear calculates that under the charges proposed by Telecom, residential customers would pay a $30 set-up fee and $47 per year; small businesses would pay a $30 set-up fee and $100 per year/per line; and larger businesses would pay a $30 set-up fee plus $336 per year/per line.

The meeting also heard yet another of Williamson’s “grow up” messages to New Zealand’s fractious telcos.

Telecom, Clear and Bell-South all copped their share of criticism from Williamson, who likened the behaviour of the carriers to that of adolescents.

The early post-deregulation years were the pre-school phase, he told the meeting.

“Pre-schoolers start to realise they have to get on with other people but otherwise squabble over just about everything with little thought for compromise.

“We now seem to be in the teenage years where they know their own rights backwards but give scant thought to anyone else’s rights in the process - particularly users.”

Williamson says many of the latest claims and counterclaims on the subject of the numbering plan and number portability have scant credibility.

“I have been deluged by complaints in recent weeks on numbering and number portability issues, most of which I consider could be quickly resolved if all concerned took a more realistic position. Some of the issues raised have little or no substance and have been accompanied by demands for heavy-handed regulatory intervention to resolve them.”

Often, he says, these issues have never seriously been put before the body designed to resolve them: the Telecommunications Numbering Advisory Group (TNAG).

BellSouth has apparently been a little more helpful — “BellSouth in the United States, that is, not BellSouth New Zealand.” Williamson quoted submissions and comments made by an executive BellSouth US to the effect that number portability should be provided free of charge by the carriers — which is not what the local operation is saying here.

Williamson’s ire — and departure from his speech notes — may have taken him too far at this point. Local carriers, he says, will not receive a sympathetic hearing if they complain of behaviour that their parent companies are engaging in overseas.

“It ill befits carriers to complain about behaviour here when their own mother companies are indulging in worse behaviour.” Just how far this can be taken is somewhat fuzzy — if company A breaches the Commerce Act and Company B complains, it seems unlikely the complaint will be rendered invalid because Company B’s parent company has done the same thing in the United States.

Telecom did not escape the minister's attention. Williamson says the telco “has some way to go”. Its initial price offer on portability was completely unrealistic and he suggests its latest offer, while more realistic, is still not satisfactory. “Telecom,” Williamson notes, “obviously stands to gain through any delays in the introduction of portability. It has countless opportunities to press its advantages in the negotiation process.”

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