Coonan set to revisit telco legislation

Coonan set to revisit telco legislation

The federal government will grind on with its so far frustrated plans to sell off Telstra, with Australia's third Communication IT and Arts (DCITA) minister, Senator Helen Coonan set to look at new ways to satisfy demands from stakeholders and minority powerbrokers.

A spokesperson for Senator Coonan told Computerworld that, while it was too early to nominate specifics about how any legislation regarding the sale of Telstra may be resuscitated, Senator Coonan was "very keen" to meet with a range of stakeholders and "sit down and look at the options".

The spokesperson said it is too early to comment on whether parts of Telstra, such as advertising and search subsidiary Sensis, could be sold seperately but emphasised Coonan had managed to pass difficult and complex legislation in her previous portfolio as minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, and nominated the Super Choice Bill as an example. The bill, which gives employees a choice of superannuation funds and fund portability, gained crucial support from the Democrats in June 2004 after eight years.

Australian Progressive Alliance leader Senator Meg Lees has immediately welcomed Coonan's overture to rework the Telstra legislation, telling ABC Radio that new legislation should look at incorporating customer-service-level guarantees for Internet services.

"It's good to hear that the minister acknowledges there are major issues and hopefully we will be able to keep talking…I don't think [Telstra is] ready to sell. However, it's very positive that the minister is prepared to look at that legislation and keep improving it.

"In other words, rather than just guaranteeing a basic phone we now need to look at what other countries such as Canada have done and substantially increase what we expect of our national carrier," Lees said.

During her first interview with the ABC's Insiders program, Coonan said she sought to actively engage with stakeholders and would be all ears. "I think the worst thing coming into a portfolio like this is for a minister to have so many preconceived ideas that you are not genuinely interested in other points of view. So I will certainly be conducting a number of meetings and I will be very, very interested to hear views across the spectrum," Coonan said.

In terms of where Coonan's IT vision may be headed, the spokesperson acknowledged recent delivery of an IT strategic framework document from within DICTA, but said it would have to be looked at and considered.

Shadow IT spokesman Kate Lundy compared Coonan's appointment to the movie Groundhog Day, and described the government's new strategic IT framework as "a framework for the bleeding obvious" that was needed in 1997.

"It's the same old story, sell off the incumbent telco and play footsies with the minority parties and independents over media cross-ownership. It's a false credential that [Coonan] has any sort of legislative nous - they just had to put someone in," Lundy said.

Interactive gambling sent back to states

The appointment of a new communications minister is likely to have seemed timely for the management of Kerry Packer's PBL, whose efforts to take interactive gambling into Australian living rooms via PayTV set-top boxes has hit another hurdle.

PBL and other gaming industry stakeholders have been pushing for national regulatory controls to be introduced to enable them to offer low-margin gaming services on a national basis, including the ability for sports fans to bet on results while a match or race is in progress.

According to a statement from outgoing communications Minister Daryl Williams, the provision of such services will still be decided on a state-by-state basis, effectively negating its viability for PayTV providers such as Foxtel, of which PBL owns 25 percent.

"The government's view is that this is best done through existing state and territory licensing regimes and I again call on the states and territories to recognise their responsibilities and act to strengthen their licensing regimes across all wagering services including interactive wagering and betting exchanges," Williams said.

In a submission to the Report on the Interactive Gambling Act, PBL said that in the UK, pay-per-view services and gambling accounted for more than 75 percent of all interactive digital television revenue.

"In the first six months of 2003, 47 percent of BskyB’s total interactive revenue was from betting. While a portion of this revenue was from phone betting, Sky has been discouraging low-margin betting over the phone and focusing on betting using the set-top boxes," PBL's submission said.

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