Carrier alliance pleads for fair go

Telecommunications pricing and the future of industry competition remains in the balance this week after an alliance of carriers bandied together against Telstra.

In a letter to federal Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, the carriers called for amendments to legislation determining the future privatisation of Telstra, due for debate in Parliament this week.

Central to the carriers' concerns is a belief that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) lacks the power to mount any effective challenge against Telstra's anticompetitive practices.

The carriers proposed amendments also include the recommendation the ACCC be given the power to intervene and settle interconnection pricing disputes between Telstra and competitive carriers.

"At the end of the day, an imbalanced competitive environment will not only jeopardise the performance of our respective businesses, but also the range, quality, price and timing of services to consumers," the letter read.

The letter, dated March 15 is signed by Cable & Wireless Optus, AAPT, Macquarie Corporate Telecommunication, Global One, BT Australia, One.Tel, Primus Telecommunications, PowerTel, WorldXChange and WorldCom.

Maha Krishnapillai, senior manager strategy for Macquarie Corporate Telecommunications, claimed users have not benefited from industry deregulation since its introduction on July 1, 1997.

"Consumers are entitled to ask 'what happened to the promise of deregulation two years ago?'," he said.

Krishnapillai described the legislation currently before parliament as a "unique opportunity" to establish an industry-wide framework to stamp out anticompetitive behaviour - by any carrier including the "non-Telstra" fraternity - and improve competition.

"What we're saying is the rules need to be tightened if users are to get lower prices, innovation and improved quality," Krishnapillai argued.

Brian Perkins, AAPT's director of regulatory and legal, said the changes are needed as Telstra continues to misuse its power.

For example, Telstra charges $30 per line to transfer its old customers to a competitive carrier. According to Perkins, it costs AAPT "well under $1" to conduct the same process.

Allan Horsley, managing director of the Australian Telecommunications User Group, supported the "outcomes and objectives" put forward by the carriers.

However, he slammed Telstra for what he sees as it's "abject failure" to develop its wholesale business in addition to its retail business.

"Why is it that we have Telstra's NDC subsidiary laying a cable for PowerTel over the top of its existing cable, when the existing cable is only 10 per cent utilised?," he asked.

Telstra executives did not respond to Computerworld calls by press time, however, a spokesperson was quoted in the Australian Financial Review as labelling the letter to Senator Alston as "pure opportunism".

Horsley said that type of comment from Telstra "is an attitude that absolutely pisses the [telecommunications] community off."

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More about AAPTAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Financial ReviewAustralian Financial ReviewBT AustralasiaCable & WirelessGlobal OneHorsleyMacquarie Corporate TelecommunicationsNDCOne.TelOptusPowerTelPrimus AustraliaPrimus TelecommunicationsTelecommunications User GroupTelstra CorporationWorldComWorldxChange

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