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One NZ breaches emergency call code

One New Zealand breaches consumer protection laws again - Gilbertson marks Chorus spending homework ‘could do better’ - Government mulls waiving Kordia broadcast fees
One NZ breaches emergency call code
Photo by camilo jimenez / Unsplash

One New Zealand breaches consumer protection laws again

The Commerce Commission has taken action in the High Court against One New Zealand saying the telco is: “endangering vulnerable consumers”.

It says the company has breached the 111 Contact Code on many occasions and, in some aspects, continues to do so.

New Zealand’s 111 Contact Code is a set of rules put in place to ease the transition from the old copper PSTN network to fibre and mobile technologies.

Moving on from copper

The copper PSTN network had its own centralised power supply with back up options in the event of a major disruption. Modern technologies depend on a local power supply and, without protections, can leave vulnerable users unable to make emergency calls when there is no power

It’s a mandatory code. Telcos like One NZ are not able to opt out.

The code came into effect in February 2021. It says service providers have to give customers a means of making 111 emergency calls when there is a power cut. There are many vulnerable people who depend on being able to make calls for their safety.

Away from One New Zealand there is widespread compliance with the Code. Gilbertson says One NZ’s failure to inform and protect its customers is a serious concern – particularly since it has the second largest number of landline connections in New Zealand.

"Devastating consequences"

He says: “Just one breach could have devastating consequences – so it’s encouraging to see most other providers respecting the importance of the Code and doing the right thing by their customers,” Mr Gilbertson says.

One New Zealand responded to the action saying it is: “Surprised by legal course of action after full cooperation and transparency around technical breaches of the 111 Contact Code”.
The company argues that it is committed to upholding the requirements of the Code. “We have cooperated throughout the process including acknowledging where we had gaps, which are now rectified”.

Comment: We’ve heard this story before

Vodafone’s name change to One New Zealand gave the company an opportunity to leave a sometimes chequered past behind. It could rebuild its reputation after a history of disregarding customer protection laws.

It chose not to. Once again the business is in the naughty corner.

For a generation the company has been the worst offender for breaching the Fair Trading Act. It has been prosecuted and convicted six times in the last 14 years.

Lost patience

This time Telecommunications Commissioner, Tristan Gilbertson, appears to have lost his patience with the company.

He says the latest action has been taken: “...in light of One NZ’s disregard for the Code and the safety of vulnerable consumers”.

That’s damning. But it gets stronger.

A long history...

He says: “One NZ has a long history of breaching consumer protection laws – so we need to send a strong signal that we won’t tolerate any disregard for its mandatory Code obligations.”

Gilbertson has a point. When the regulator acts, when new rules or codes are put in place, when there is a new customer protection initiative, One NZ is often the only telco that pushes back.

It runs the risk that customers will view this as the telco doing all it can to frustrate their interests.

Gilbertson marks Chorus spending homework ‘could do better’

Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson says Chorus’ future spending plans do not get a pass mark in key areas. He says there is room for the fibre wholesale firm to turn in fresh numbers before the Commerce Commission makes a final decision on its expenditure allowance.

When, 15 years ago, Chorus bid to build the lions’ share of New Zealand’s government backed urban fibre network, it was awarded contracts that came with regulatory conditions.

Because of its scale and history, Chorus faced greater regulatory scrutiny than Northpower, Enable and Tuatahi First Fibre (previously known as Ultrafast Fibre).

"Long-term interests of consumers"

The 2022 amendments to the Telecommunications Act update the original fibre build contracts. They are intended to look after the long-term interests of consumers in a substantially different telecommunications era. Under these rules, the Commerce Commission regulates all the fibre companies with a price-quality and information disclosure regime.

In the case of Chorus, that means the Commerce Commission gets to decide how much profit the company can make and how much it can invest.

The idea is that the regulator checks the money is being spent ahead of demand so that consumers end up with the best possible network which they, ultimately fund, when service providers pay Chorus a regulated access fee.

ComCom decides on Chorus spending

In short, the Commerce Commission gets to decide if Chorus is spending wisely as it expands and upgrades the network.

The commission’s recent draft decision says it wants Chorus to spend 16 per cent less over the four year period than the company’s submitted plan. As always with these matters, that draft decision is now out for industry submissions. Chorus will be among those making submissions.

This is all part of regulatory work, that with other decisions in the pipeline, will determine a new price-quality path. These include setting maximum revenue and minimum quality standards.

At some point, the regulatory shackles will come off. For now Chorus is the biggest operator of the best and most popular telecommunications technology. However with fixed wireless and satellite technologies evolving at a fast pace, the company will eventually need less regulatory attention. But for now, it has to get its plans signed off by the telecommunications commissioner.

Government mulls waiving Kordia broadcast fees

Stuff and Warner Bros Discovery announced a planned replacement for the nightly 6pm television news bulletin. The deal will see Stuff produce a daily bulletin for a fee.

Hidden in the announcement details was a story written by Tom Pullar-Strecker for The Post which says the “government has been considering offering Warner Bros Discovery and other broadcasters a break on television transmission fees that would normally be paid to state-owned enterprise Kordia, on the condition that they continued to offer television news bulletins”.

The story suggests such an arrangement could be worth around $5.2 million a year to Warner Bros Discovery.

This is controversial because, if the arrangement goes ahead, Warner Bros will get the saving even after laying off its own news team. The broadcaster will be continuing to offer television news bulletins, but they will be outsourced, not produced internally.

While waiving Kordia fees would benefit other broadcasters, there’s nothing in it for newspapers or digital media.

AWS finds AI skills in demand on both sides

A survey from Access Partnership paid for by Amazon Web Services says New Zealand workers want to pick up AI skills. More than three quarters (78 per cent) of Gen Z respondents are looking to get the skills.

Likewise similar numbers of Millennials (82 per cent) and Gen X workers (76 per cent). For Baby Boomers the interest drops, but only a little, with 70 per cent saying they’d enrol in an AI skills course if one were available.

A study of 1600 Kiwi workers and 500 employers, carried out by Access Partnership for AWS, found that 78 per cent of Gen Z, 82 per cent of Millennials, and 76 per cent of Gen X workers want to acquire AI skills. Amazon says older Kiwis are more interested in retraining than their Australian counterparts.

Amazon says more than 60 per cent of New Zealand bosses want to hire workers with AI skills and 70 per cent day they struggle to find the skilled workers they need.

In other news...

A post at the IT Professionals web blog asks if we should be worried about “a serious and deliberate flaw that could leave networked Linux computers susceptible to malicious attacks”. Clearly the answer is yes, it is extremely worrying. The story is shown online with Peter Griffin’s byline, but later reveals it is reposted from The Conversation and was written by Sigi Goode who is Professor of Information Systems, Australian National University.

The NZ Herald’s Chris Keall writes about the $700 AI Pin from Humane. He says it was meant to be like the communicator used in Star Trek, a badge like device replacing a phone. Yet in practice it falls woefully short of its promise.

The Verge has an entertaining and informative look at the crews who rush to fix broken submarine cables. The story reminds me of my time visiting Alcatel Submarine Network’s cable ship Ile de Batz when it was laying the Australia to Singapore cable for Vocus. Submarine cables are fascinating, but often overlooked. It’s easy to forget how essential they are.

Suddenly Satellites are turning up everywhere. Writing at Newsroom, Matthew Scott looks at another application in Eyes in the sky could bolster infrastructure resilience.

At Interest.co.nz Juha Saarinen writes “After holding off for two years, Canada will introduce digital services tax on tech multinationals”. There’s a tentative plan for a similar tax in New Zealand, but as Saarinen explains events elsewhere could mean it is shelved in favour of a multilateral agreement.

The Download Weekly is supported by Chorus New Zealand.