NZ's regulation by censorship

Commercial sensitivities ride roughshod over the NZ public's right to be informed.

I really wanted to write about something else than bleeding telco industry stuff for a change, but then something incredibly disappointing happened. Well, it was fairly exciting to start with: Chris Keall at NBR leaked the details of a secret deal between Vodafone NZ and 2degrees.

The story didn't last long before the telco regulator, the Commerce Commission, ordered it to be taken down. And, that's just wrong. First, the details of the deal shouldn't have been kept secret to start with, but worse still, the Commerce Commission seems to agree to any amount of information suppression. All any involved party has to do is to claim that the information is "commercially sensitive" (whatever that means), and out it goes from the public documents that are published. Only a select few people who have been sworn to secrecy (typically corporate lawyers and the Commission itself, of course) have the full information.

What information is taken out? A lot, too much to list, but if you have the patience to go through the huge repository of PDF files at the Commerce Commission's website, you'll come across an enormous amount of documents with large chunks of information blanked out. There doesn't appear to be any rules as to what is redacted.

As you can imagine, this extensive removal of information means that the already Byzantine telco regulation process becomes even more cryptic. Somehow or other, the public is expected to participate in this process and submit on the issues where the details are [redacted] so that for instance the question about [redacted] becomes impossible to make [redacted] of.

If that's the case, why pretend that we have a transparent and democratic regulatory process, if random commercial sensitivities override it to the point that New Zealand media is censored as well?

Besides, of the three parties involved, only 2degrees objected to the deal being revealed. The Commerce Commission didn't, and Vodafone has been wanting to make the details available for a while now. Since other access seekers can get the same interconnection terms from Vodafone as 2degrees enjoys, there seems even less reason to prevent media from reporting on them, at pain of NZ$12,000 a day in fines and possible criminal charges.

This is really ugly.


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