Pressure Builds On Telecom NZ's 0867 Scheme

Pressure on Telecom New Zealand's 0867 numbering scheme is increasing, following the Crown Law Office's advice to government that the scheme may breach the Kiwi Share arrangement.

"Government should move on this within days. Waiting till the election is just too long," says Ernie Newman, chief executive of the telecommunications association TUANZ.

The 0867 scheme was introduced by Telecom in late June. Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to move all customers on to Telecom's IPNet or face a 2 NZ cent per minute call charge after the first 10 hours online a month. While some ISPs have welcomed the move, the majority are opposed to it, even those that have already signed up.

Telecom was initially going to enforce the move from August onwards, but has moved the implementation date to November to give ISPs time to set up their infrastructure.

"The solution Telecom has come up with has some very significant disruptive effects that go beyond the question of easing access to the network," says Newman.

Newman would like to see the 0867 scheme withdrawn completely from the market and for ISPs, Telecom and other interested parties to work out how best to minimize any damage the Internet's growth in New Zealand might have.

Alliance spokeswoman for IT and telecommunications, Laila Harre, has raised the issue in the House, asking Minister of Communications Maurice Williamson if he "will be advising the shareholding minister (Minister of Finance Bill Birch) to use the Kiwi Share to stop the proposal proceeding?"

Williamson says the government is considering the issue and says the Crown Law office has not said Telecom's move is "definitely in breach" of the Kiwi Share, but that it is "possible the Telecom proposal may be found in breach (of the Kiwi Share)." This means there is still much to be considered.

Williamson gave no timetable for when government would report on its findings.

Telecom media relations manager Linda Sanders says Telecom has not changed its mind over the 0867 system.

"We have received legal advice that our proposal is not in breach of the Kiwi Share."

On top of that, she says the Kiwi Share allows Telecom to offer an alternative to free line charges as long as consumers have an alternative. The 0867 calls are free and as such are an alternative to the 2 cents/minute charges.

Labour's spokeswoman on IT and communications, Marian Hobbs, believes Tele-com's move is motivated by a desire to avoid interconnection charges with Clear and she wants government to step in now to avoid having New Zealanders' access to the Internet "compromised" by another lengthy legal battle.

Harre believes the Kiwi Share holder, Birch, is unwilling to intervene on behalf of the Kiwi Share.

"In a meeting with ICONZ (sic), the Internet Society of New Zealand, he has expressed the view that the Kiwi Share does not apply to data calls."

Harre wants to know who in government is looking after Telecom issues -- Birch or Williamson.

Birch's office would not comment, except to say the investigation is ongoing.

The Commerce Commission is also investigating whether Telecom has a case to answer or not -- its investigation is also ongoing.

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