Although it is called a levy, the $50 million government collects each year from telecommunications companies looks a lot like a tax.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Telecommunications Development Levy pays for worthy causes like the government’s $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative, services for deaf people and upgrades to the 111 emergency call service.
Subsidising rural users
The TDL replaces an earlier scheme called the Telecommunications Services Obligation (TSO) which, in theory anyway, divided up the cost of providing land-line telephone services to unprofitable rural customers.
In effect it meant companies like Vodafone, CallPlus and Orcon had to shoulder some of the costs mainly carried by Telecom as a hangover from the days when a phone system was a public service, not a commercial business.
There was no end of arguing over the TSO. Vodafone pointed out those subsidised rural land line customers might be better off with mobile coverage than land-lines. There were other disputes.
New fund, new arguments
Now Chorus, which provides wholesale services to retail telcos, argues it shouldn’t pay the new levy. The company’s prices are largely regulated. Chorus can’t pass the additional cost on to its customers. The Commerce Commission, which manages the TDL doesn’t agree.
After considering charging content providers like Sky who deliver services over the telephone network, the Commerce Commission has backed off. The telcos aren’t happy about this, not is the Tuanz, the telecommunications user association.
The usual process is New Zealand is for too-ing and fro-ing between interested parties before the Telecommunications Commissioner makes a final decision.