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The bolding is our Thursday might be interesting depending on the news...

Make haste, pleads Cunliffe
26 June 2006

Communications Minister David Cunliffe has appealed to the commerce select committee to reduce the uncertainty in the telecommunications industry by quickly considering legislation that would give competitors unconstrained access to Telecom's network.

However, he was greeted with an hour of sceptical questioning over the rationale for the reforms, which will soon be tabled in Parliament.

Mr Cunliffe told the select committee he would like it to wrap up consideration of the amendments to the Telecommunications Act by the end of the year, so the legislation could be passed early in the New Year.

"The Government is keen to move the legislation forward on the fastest practical and reasonable time frame, allowing of course for a rigorous select committee process.

"I think it is encumbent on all of us in the executive and the legislature to minimise the potential for any confusion in the marketplace," he said.

Labour does not have a majority on the select committee, which is chaired by National MP Katherine Rich. United Future MP Gordon Copeland holds the balance of power.

Ms Rich says the time taken by the select committee would depend on the number of submissions it received from the public and the size of the bill, but warned the select committee was "a very busy one" which had a lot of other legislation to consider.

She believes the reform plan is dissuading overseas firms from investing in New Zealand infrastructure. "The message I've got from a number of business visits I've done over the last month or so is that these kinds of decisions contribute to a feeling of uncertainty about New Zealand."

Under questioning from Labour's Winnie Laban, Mr Cunliffe argued rural New Zealanders as well as those in urban areas would benefit from the proposed reforms, though possibly not at the same pace.

He said the Government would put together a package to assist rural phone users in next year's Budget but didn't know yet how much money might be committed.

Mr Cunliffe signalled the Government would probably seek to amend the "Kiwishare", or TSO contract between Telecom and the Crown, to incorporate a right for people to be offered broadband connection speeds.

"We do feel there is a need to update the TSO to take account of the new broadband environment."

It will also probably let other companies bid for the right to provide free local calling and other communications services that Telecom is now obliged to provide but which are subsidised by all main telcos under the Kiwishare agreement.

Offering a glimmer of hope to an embattled Telecom, Mr Cunliffe said some of Labour's proposed regulatory changes might be wound back "at such time that the market is functioning smoothly".

He praised Telecom's public reaction to the reforms, saying it "appears to be facing the future and making all the right noises about its response".

Mr Cunliffe rejected concerns voiced by National Party communications spokesman Maurice Williamson that the regulatory package might reduce incentives for investment in telecommunications infrastructure.

He says the evidence presented to the Government during its stocktake of the industry was that there was "a wave of investment about to happen".

"Within five years people are going to find they have got all the broadband they can eat."

Mr Cunliffe was chided for waffling when grilled by Mr Williamson on the basis for the Government's about-turn on regulation and the strong broadband performance of Switzerland and South Korea prior to unbundling. He said action was needed as New Zealand could not continue lagging behind most OECD countries.

He is expected to release the evidence gathered during the telecommunications stocktake at a conference in Auckland on Wednesday.
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