Rethink Visionstream disaster, Telecom

Telecom needs to quickly jettison the forced Visionstream owner-operator deal for lines techies if it cares about its image.

Paul Reynolds at Telecom NZ deserves some of his bonus for steering Telecom clear of the public relations disasters that it ran into regularly in the past, and which cemented the company as the Evil Empire in people's minds.

Now, however, it's time to test Reynold's mettle over the Visionstream debacle, where Telecom's lines techies — the people who actually keep the network going and who extend it — are being forced into the cold confines of dependent contracting as owner-operators, facing start-up costs of $20,000 or more while their incomes drop by a half to two-thirds. And, they're asked to go along with this amidst a massive global recession.

Slashing costs is one thing, but the way Telecom's done it via its infrastructure arm, Chorus, threatens to undo all of Reynolds' public image repair work. It's hard to imagine a more raw deal than the one offered to the techies, especially when there's plenty of work for them to do at a company that has the profitable monopoly on much of NZ's telecommunications.

If Telecom thought that the public would ignore it, and not support the striking techies, it thought wrong. The whole Visionstream idea may have looked good in an Excel spreadsheet, but it may end up costing Telecom far more than it was supposed to save.

The opposition Labour party is making hay over the issue, putting pressure on Communications Minister Joyce who would rather be busy with his already-delayed broadband network. Joyce won't appreciate the disruption, and it may end up costing Telecom bits of the national broadband network business.

What's worse, Northland National MP John Carter's now come out in support of the striking techies, telling his constituents not to sign the Visionstream contracts. They're "crock", Carter says, and it's not in the techies' interests to go along with them.

Telecom's wholesale customers like Orcon are also grizzling, as they have to tell their customers to expect delays to fault fixing, which is err, no fault of their own. How long before the strikes start to affect Telecom's regulatory undertakings and even its own retail and wholesale operations?

It can't be said clearer than that, really, but so far, Telecom's showing no sign of listening to the public opinion. Perhaps Reynolds has to stay out of Chorus' immediate business because of operational separation requirements, but even so, Reynolds would be wise to look up what happened last time Telecom gave the New Zealand public the two-finger salute, and not let the dispute drag on until the bitter end. The Visionstream deal just isn't going to work in its current incarnation, and needs to be dumped.


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