Commerce Commission, UCLL pricing and referees

Yesterday InternetNZ, Tuanz and Consumer called on the Commerce Commission to take care setting the price of the unbundled copper local loop as it heads into the Final Pricing Principal process.

The call came after Chorus suggested the Commerce Commission use a price model built by its consultants to speed the process.

As InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter said on Radio New Zealand – and I’m paraphrasing here – that would be like one of the teams in a Rugby match appointing the referee.

In effect Carter warns that taking short-cuts now is likely to cause problems later and may lead to protracted court action.

Using a pricing model commissioned by Chorus would certainly give ammunition to any lawyers in any later litigation.

Chorus’s radio response – and I’m taking huge liberties here not even attempting to paraphrase accurately because I wasn’t taking notes at the time  – is effectively to say that the terms of the process and the rules of the game are decided by the Commerce Commission, all it wants to do is hand over some information to speed things up.

To revisit the Rugby metaphor, this sounds more like a team captain having a word in the referee’s ear.

Labour communications spokesperson Clare Curran has previously opposed Chorus’ proposition to use its analysis to speed up the process saying it was an issue of trust and New Zealanders were already wary of Chorus.

The point Carter, Curran and Tuanz boss Paul Brislen all make is that Chorus hasn’t done a good job of managing its networks and the rest of us shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the company’s inefficiencies.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this is that the copper network and UCLL is increasingly irrelevant in large swathes of New Zealand now served by a spanking new fibre network. Sure, copper will have a role to play in rural areas for years to come, but in the cities and towns it is on the way out.

A lot of the heat could be taken out of the debate if the government set a date to switch-off copper in fibre areas and make it clear any future wrangling over UCLL and similar services is essentially about rural telecommunications policy.