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Telco regulation faces convergence review in New Zealand

Converged technologies could, and arguably should, lead to converged regulation.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

Technological convergence and network and content globalisation are driving New Zealand to fundamentally review its regulatory regimes.

Communications minister Amy Adams launched a discussion paper [PDF] today asking a series of questions that could lead to a rewrite of not just the Telecommunications Act, but related regulatory regimes as well.

The paper outlines six challenges and asks a series of questions in an effort to prompt deep consideration of the changes that are reshaping not just telecommunications, but the media and entertainment as well.

In addition to seeking a simpler mode of regulated network price-setting, the paper also opens a formal discussion about net neutrality, an issue little discussed in New Zealand.

Telco retailer Spark responded that net neutrality is not a big issue locally.

"Net neutrality is a high profile issue in the United States but is not such a problem here in New Zealand because our copper and fibre networks are wholesale-only open access networks and we have a strong product disclosure regime," said Spark's general manager regulation, John Wesley-Smith.

"Net neutrality concerns are grounded in the potential for vertically-integrated monopoly network owners to dictate the terms of internet access to content providers and customers. Customers in New Zealand have a genuine choice of service provider, which is the ultimate protection against that outcome."

That is not a view shared by Internet NZ, however, which in June said content bundling by ISPs and telco prioritisation charging could threaten traffic neutrality.

Questions the review poses for consideration include:

  • Would it make sense for a single 'Communications Act' to cover all access and pricing regulation for telecommunications, broadcasting and radio spectrum allocation?
  • Should we encourage increased roaming and infrastructure sharing in the mobile industry?
  • Should network operators be able to manage traffic through prioritisation or deprioritisation on their networks?
  • What are the barriers to [network company] Chorus stopping copper services in fibre areas?

Adams said the discussion paper is seeking views on options for communications regulation after 2020.

"Digital convergence, new technology and innovation are transforming the way we live, work and do business and communication networks have come a long way since the Telecommunications Act was passed in 2001," she said.

However, among other issues, regulated price-setting for monopoly network operators such as Chorus has proved a painful, protracted and political process.

"The more certainty communications sector investors have about the regulatory environment, the better placed they are to deliver more technology choices for consumers," Adams said.
The nationwide roll out and expected adoption of the government-funded Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) network also poses new questions.
"This is an opportunity to increase stability and certainty in our regulatory processes, after the separation of Telecom and the roll-out of UFB," a Q&A document also released today said.
"We need to clarify the way UFB will be regulated after 2020, and we need to maintain and build on competition in mobile markets."
The consultation runs until October 27.

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