Tier-two carriers launch salvo at Telstra

A consortium of five telecommunications carriers operating under the banner of the Competitive Carriers' Coalition hopes to foment a revolution in the industry, representatives said today. The CCC -- launched today in Melbourne after a year of informal collaboration -- unites rival second-tier carriers Macquarie Corporate Telecommunications (MCT), Primus Telecommunications, Powertel, wholesale network provider Comindico, and mobile carrier Hutchison Telecommunications.

A consortium of five telecommunications carriers operating under the banner of the Competitive Carriers' Coalition hopes to foment a revolution in the industry, representatives said today.

The CCC -- launched today in Melbourne after a year of informal collaboration -- unites rival second-tier carriers Macquarie Corporate Telecommunications (MCT), Primus Telecommunications, Powertel, wholesale network provider Comindico, and mobile carrier Hutchison Telecommunications. All report constant frustration in negotiating commercially viable access to Telstra services.

"I've been with Comindico since it started, and it's been a period of constant disputes with Telstra," said John Brennan, director and former executive chairman of the nationwide bandwidth wholesaler. "It is time consuming and expensive, and I have to view [their attitude] as a consistent, well-planned series of delay tactics. I'm delighted to see colleagues getting together to improve the level of debate"

The CCC hopes its members' unified voice will get the attention of Canberra lawmakers - particularly recently appointed Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Helen Coonan. CCC members have already met with Coonan to raise their concerns over issues like product bundling, network access, rollout of fibre to the home, radiofrequency spectrum allocation, and the structural separation of Telstra.

Fundamental to the CCC's creation is its members' conviction that existing competition legislation - enforced sporadically by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) -- has failed to regulate Telstra well enough to produce a competitive telecommunications market.

In the short term, CCC members will fund a range of activities including education of politicians, research into key market trigger factors, and a planned series of seminars in November. Its long-term goals - which David Forman, an ex-Comindico executive today appointed as the CCC's executive director, concedes are unlikely to come into play until after the federal election - include potential amendments to the Trade Practices Act and greater powers of enforcement for the competition watchdog.

Privatisation remains off the agenda, however: "We don't have philosophical view on privatisation," said Forman. "We think that discussion can only be had in the context of a properly functioning competitive environment. The main game is not privatisation; the main game is reform, which has to happen whether or not Telstra is sold".

The CCC isn't the first industry organisation to lament the state of telecommunications competition, however: the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG), for one, has long pushed for improvements to the competitive regime, as has virtually every other carrier and ISP forced to deal with Telstra. Whether the CCC can raise its voice above the crowd's din remains to be seen, however: members hope the fact they've invested millions in network infrastructure will give their opinions clout that has so far been lacking from the competition debate.

The ACCC declined to comment for this story.

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