Telstra has only met the bare minimum requirements set out by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in its structural separation plan, according to Optus — which doesn't believe that the plan makes sure that Telstra Wholesale will treat its retail arm on an equal basis to its rivals.
Telstra's "Structural Separation Undertaking" (PDF) and "Migration Plan" (PDF), delivered to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last week and published this morning, detail Telstra's plans to separate its wholesale arm from its retail arm as it begins the long journey to decommission its copper and hybrid fibre-coaxial networks over the next 10 years and move customers onto the NBN.
The separation plan also sets out the environment in which Telstra Wholesale will provide services to telcos for the period until the NBN is completed. However, according to Optus' general manager interconnect and economic regulation, Andrew Sheridan, the undertaking is "largely a repackage of the current arrangements", and will not improve competition.
"These arrangements deliver very little change from what we have in place today," he told ZDNet Australia. "And they're very much a repackage of the existing operational, separational arrangements that were put in place in 2005, with just a few additional tweaks, and those tweaks, we think, are very immaterial".
He said that Telstra just met the "very bare minimum" that was required under a ministerial determination issued a few weeks ago. As part of the undertaking, Telstra has committed to publishing a price list to show that all wholesale customers are paying equal prices to access the services. However, Sheridan said that the pricing list wouldn't include Telstra's retail business.
"Our main concern was that for an equivalence arrangement to be effective, then it needed to guarantee that Telstra Retail was supplied the same services at the same prices as was supplied to Telstra's wholesale customers," he said. "There's no obligation on that in these set of arrangements."
In the document, Telstra outlines that fault reporting and the commissioning of new services will be handled by Telstra Wholesale, the same with Telstra retail as with other wholesale customers; however, Sheridan said that the "spin" around that was that there were a number of exceptions, including one that specifies that for existing services that are regulated by the ACCC, the service level agreements (SLA) already in place will continue to apply.
"The commitment there is basically just to deliver the same SLAs that are in place today and those SLAs have never been meaningful or fit for purpose," he said.
"Much of what they're committing to do, they're already doing today," he said.
Under the plan, dispute resolution between Telstra Wholesale and telcos must first be examined by Telstra itself. If either party is not satisfied with the outcome, then it can go to a newly established adjudicator, which is funded and appointed by Telstra. Sheridan said that this will only stretch out the time it takes to resolve disputes.
"We have an independent adjudicator today — it's the ACCC, and therefore this just brings in another layer of bureaucracy and rather than speeding up the process of disputes, it potentially adds to the further delay in resolving disputes," he said.
The ACCC will spend the next 28 days in public consultation on the plan, and will then issue a discussion paper, calling for further comment. Sheridan said it is critical that the ACCC attempts to make some changes to the undertaking.
"We really do have one last chance to get it right, and the onus is back on the ACCC to look at the interest of consumers and perhaps make some small but important changes to these arrangements to ensure that we do get competition in this 10-year period."