Saturday, December 28, 2002

Yet another inquiry over summer

The House of Representatives Communications Committee is to inquire into worth of splitting Telstra into two.

It'll do so quickly.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde writes:

"The Structural Separation Inquiry is arguably the most important telco inquiry ever conducted by this government will take place in only five days in February - none of them in regional Australia - and the report is to be tabled on March 24.

"Given this ridiculous timeframe, I think the outcome of the Inquiry should be that more investigation is required.

"It is also frightening to observe the government's tunnel vision. Their image of the telco world is apparent in the following comment they made about the Inquiry.
'However, we are categorically and genuinely opposed to such an idea because it would have a disastrous effect on Telstra's competitiveness and the industry. We think the idea is just plain stupid.'

If this is indeed their view, then the government must believe that the OECD, the European Union, several European parliaments and Professor Allan Fels are stupid, since they all support the idea of structural separation. From its lofty position, the Australian government apparently believes it is the only one to get it right. But its track record proves the opposite. Competition in telco land is dying, thanks to the policies that have been implemented by the government since 1996/1997.

"Its digital TV policy is the worst in the world; its privatisation policy is in shambles; its regional policy has just been shot to pieces by the Estens Report - yet they take the high ground and call everyone else stupid.

"Structural separation is inevitable; the problem is how to identify the format that best suits us in Australia and how to implement it over a 3-5 year timeframe. This government continues to try to hold back the international tide in telco-land, they continue to fight battles that they are going to lose anyway, so why not at least try to follow the overseas trend and tap into the global think tanks that are operating on a much more mature level?

"The rest of the world doesn't privatise its telcos - only 3 out of the 30 OECD countries have fully privatised operators. Governments around the world consider telco infrastructure to be a national asset and accept the fact that long-term government involvement is required, at least for large sections of this network. We are still waiting to learn the government's position on this, as requested by the Estens Report, but up till now it has flatly denied any responsibility.

"We hold Inquiry after Inquiry, and the messages that come out of them are always pretty clear - yet the government is fighting progress every inch of the way."