Primus goes above John Howard's head

commentary Primus is one schoolyard kid not afraid to complain to the teachers when it gets bullied. In mid-December last year the telco's US-based parent sent a letter to the United States government, complaining about the state of telecomms regulation down under.

commentary Primus is one schoolyard kid not afraid to complain to the teachers when it gets bullied.

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
In mid-December last year the telco's US-based parent sent a letter to the United States government, complaining about the state of telecomms regulation down under.

In the letter -- available online -- Primus called on the US to pressure the Australian government to "regulate Telstra in a manner that keeps the Australian telecommunications market open to fair and effective competition from US and other carriers".

In layman's terms ... don't let Telstra off the regulatory leash until some of its "incredible market power" can be siphoned off to competitors like Primus.

The US could do this, Primus suggested, by forcing Australia to live up to obligations which came into force in 2005 under the two nations' Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

There is some substance to Primus' arguments about Telstra.

The heavyweight is indeed a "highly vertically and horizontally integrated carrier ... with control and ownership over the copper customer access network" as the letter claimed.

And of course, as a US-headquartered company Primus is within its rights to try and enlist its own government to support its cause to gain ground in Australia.

However doing so isn't going to win Primus any friends down under.

The telco's letter certainly had local trade minister Mark Vaile seeing red ... the politician made it clear in a recent newspaper article on the subject that he wasn't keen to discuss the matter at upcoming trade talks with the US.

He also attacked the factual basis of the Primus letter, claiming it misrepresented the actions of government.

In an amazing case of Telstra and the government being in agreement, the giant's own reply to the US adopted a similar stance.

"The factual misstatements contained in the Primus filing are so extensive that Telstra has not sought to correct each and every inaccuracy and misleading omission, but instead has confined itself to addressing Primus' most egregious allegations," the telco said.

Even if you ignore the bluster of the politicians and the incumbent, its hard to imagine how most Australians would welcome any attempt by the US government to interfere in the domestic market.

In the ICT space, many people weren't too keen on the FTA even when it was signed, due to its potential to impact on local laws -- particularly those relating to intellectual property.

Furthermore, it's tough to argue the telecomms regulatory environment needs a drastic overhaul when most consumers and businesses are currently seeing greater levels of competition and innovation than ever before.

It's not as if the local competition regulator hasn't shown its willingness to restrain Telstra.

Just last month the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gave Telstra until this Friday 27th January to justify a recent rise in the line rental prices it charges its wholesale customers -- an issue on which Primus itself has been extremely vocal.

What do you think -- has Primus gone too far with its international complaints or is it a legitimate tactic? Send your thoughts to renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au

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