Telecom NZ Slams 'Heavy-Handed' Government Report

The New Zealand government risks missing a great opportunity to lead the country forward in the digital age, and is instead introducing old-style, heavy-handed regulation of telecommunications which is 10 years out of date, Telecom New Zealand said Wednesday.

The carrier's strongly-worded statement was in reply to the release of a government Telecommunications Inquiry report, recommendations from which may become law by the end of the year.

The report starts with sound objectives but many of its recommendations fall well short of delivering on these in a dynamic industry such as telecommunications, Bruce Parkes, Telecom New Zealand's general manager for government and industry relations, said in the statement.

Telecom New Zealand was particularly critical of a proposal to create a post of Electronic Communications Commissioner.

"The inquiry panel's proposed Electronic Communications Commissioner would be a highly retrograde step for New Zealand where competition is flourishing and major investment is being made in exciting new communications technologies," Parkes said. "The report has failed to make any convincing case for a new bureaucracy dedicated to intervening in a highly competitive industry."

The report calls for the formation of two bodies -- a commissioner's office, with a staff of around 10 people costing up to NZ$1.5 million (A$1.1 million) a year of industry funding to run and an industry forum which would "prepare codes of practice for regulated services, for approval by the Commissioner."

Telecom New Zealand also criticized proposals in the report to renegotiate the Kiwi Share agreement -- a charter dating from the monopoly days by which the carrier must still abide, forcing it to maintain a local free-calling option for all residential telephone customers and guarantee equal access to rural customers as to urban customers.

"We have stuck by the [Kiwi Share] contract over the past 10 years and, in fact, gone far beyond its basic requirements," Parkes said in the statement. "But we will not accept a proposal for suddenly making the Kiwi Share an open-ended obligation on Telecom, with potential for the costs to mount steadily over time."

Telecom New Zealand has two main competitors in its home market -- Clear Communications, a wholly-owned subsidiary of British Telecommunications PLC and Telstra-Saturn Ltd., a joint venture led by Australian carrier Telstra Corp. Vodafone Airtouch PLC has also entered New Zealand's mobile phone market.

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