Is Telstra vs Optus a war of words or a war on truth?

Summary:Facts are facts, right? Not when Telstra, Optus and the communications regulator are involved. With temperatures rising across the board over the contentious issue of broadband, mud-slinging and half-truths have become the order of the day.

commentary Facts are facts, right? Not when Telstra, Optus and the communications regulator are involved. With temperatures rising across the board over the contentious issue of broadband, mud-slinging and half-truths have become the order of the day.

As Communications Minister Helen Coonan noted this week broadband has gone from being geek speak to barbeque stopper. Coonan was speaking to delegates at this year's Australian Financial Review Broadband Australia conference when reflecting on the state of broadband.

And as telcos, political parties and regulators seek to make capital from the country's need for higher speeds, it seems interested parties are getting more and more flexible with their definition of the truth.

At the same conference, Phil Burgess, Telstra's head of communications and public policy, said that unbundled local loop (ULL) access price cuts mandated by the regulator have forced fees to such low levels, it is now cheaper for rival Optus to use Telstra's HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) network than to use its own.

It's a charge Warren Hardy, MD of Optus's consumer division, rebutted, saying the telco had made a decision to stop reselling Telstra's services and is spending AU$1 billion each year on building its own infrastructure.

Telstra's Burgess also said the ACCC's choice of ULL access pricing -- AU$17.70 -- was dreamt up by the regulator after looking at UK watchdog Ofcom's local loop charges and converting the amount to Australian dollars.

Once again, the charge is flatly denied -- this time by the regulator. Michael Cosgrave, head of the communications division at the ACCC, says it arrived at the figure after looking at market conditions in Australia, not by looking to its UK counterparts.

Telstra's rivals, including Internode and Optus, queued up to slate the incumbent over ADSL2+. Telstra, the rivals say, has a very large ADSL2+ network, a large proportion of which remains dark.

Dark, that is, until another provider enters that particular area to offer ADSL2+ too, at which point Telstra flicks the switch and begins to offer its own service in that selfsame region.

Even the regulator queried Telstra's thinking, with the ACCC's Cosgrave noting: "The ACCC sees no compelling case for adopting this approach in Australia."

And guess what? Telstra denied the move was without logic. Burgess said its decision to launch ADSL2+ in some areas only once a competitor was active there was a defensive move after the ACCC warned the telco that, should it launch ADSL2+ in areas where there was no competition, the watchdog could not guarantee its infrastructure would not be "taken from [it]", in Telstra's words.

And my personal favourite example of spin: Telstra's favourite old chestnut, Next G. The network's capable of 14.4Mbps downlink, they say -- faster than anyone else's 3G network. What the company fails to mention is that the devices which are compatible with Next G -- data cards and mobiles alike -- can only offer speeds of 3.6Mbps. And 3.6Mbps is precisely the speed Optus, 3 and Vodafone's networks provide too.

So, in summary:

  • Optus uses Telstra's HFC network. Optus does not use Telstra's HFC network.
  • The ACCC chooses access prices based on Ofcom's. The ACCC does not choose access prices based on Ofcom's.
  • There is no reason for Telstra to keep some of its ADSL2+ network dark. There is a reason for Telstra to keep some of its ADSL2+ network dark.

I hope all this information (spin-formation?) has been useful in the ongoing debate on broadband. No? Thought not.

Broadband is an election issue but that doesn't mean that those in the industry have to mimic the politicians by spreading rumours, and throwing stones while putting their feet up in nice glass houses.

If industry figures carry on mimicking political motormouths in this way, the public will come to regard them in the same way as they do those politicians: with cynicism and mistrust.

And telcos really don't need any more of either directed at them right now.

Topics: Telcos, Government, Government : AU, Legal, Optus, Telstra

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.