New Zealand to force telcos to compete

Legislation aimed at fostering competition in New Zealand's telecommunications market will be introduced in March or April and come into force later this year.

NZ Communications and IT minister Paul Swain set the deadline in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce this week when he outlined three measures that will be included in the government's response to the findings of last year's telecommunications inquiry.

The measures include:

-- establishing a new telecommunications commissioner operating from within the Commerce Commission. Swain said "preliminary work" on appointing the commissioner would begin soon.

-- mandated wholesaling of Telecom New Zealand's fixed network services and regulation of interconnection.

-- a revamped Kiwi Share, promising "basic Internet access" to almost all New Zealanders by upgrading NZ Telecom's network to provide a minimum 9.6Kbit/sec data capability to 99 per cent and 14.4Kbit/sec to 95 per cent of residential lines.

Swain said the government would be "focusing in particular on bandwidth" as a means to facilitate New Zealand's participation as "a player in the knowledge society".

Swain also reiterated the key elements of the government e-commerce strategy launched at last year's e-commerce summit, which defined the government's role in terms of leadership as a model user, helping build capability and putting in place "an enabling regulatory environment".

Swain said all government departments were being asked to "regularly review and sharpen up the initiatives that were listed in the e-commerce strategy. This will form the basis for the development of a government six-quarter action plan".

Focus would be on the E-Commerce Action Team (ECAT), a partnership between government and the private sector that will "have two functions -- to advance the implementation of the government's e-commerce strategy, and to report on the progress of e-commerce strategies throughout industry", he said.

Swain said he would be announcing the core membership of ECAT this month, with the team to meet early in March.

"On the back of this we are organising a string of regional ECATs and a series of regional workshops in partnership with business and local communities. These will underscore the importance of both building IT capability and the opportunities to be exploited through e-commerce," he said.

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