Government takes Telstra to task

Government takes Telstra to task

A new Bill from the office of Senator Richard Alston, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, is set to increase competition within the telecommunications industry. One of the specific aspects of the Telecommunications Competition Bill 2002 focuses on the accounting practices of Telstra, specifically requiring the communications company to reveal both wholesale and retail costs of a number of its services.

The accounting separation aspects of the Bill are aimed at addressing concerns within the industry regarding anti-competitive behaviour by Telstra. "These new rules will give Telstra both an incentive and an opportunity to demonstrate that it's price and non-price arrangements promote efficient competitive outcomes and do not involve unfair discrimination or price-squeeze behaviour," said Senator Alston's office in a statement released last week.

Alston's office is confident that the Bill will result in a more competitive and informed market. David Quilty, a spokesperson for the Senator's office, is quick to point out that the government's proposed accounting separation framework is not in response to any guilt on Telstra's part, but more of a preventive measure.

"The main concern is that Telstra does not treat its competitors, which access its network, equitably," said Quilty. "Telstra isn't necessarily guilty, but if it should engage in price squeezing then other carriers simply would not be able to compete."

"Telstra is also in a position where it can treat itself more favourably, by providing services - such as the repair of faults in the network - for itself before addressing the concerns of other carriers," he added. One of the aims of the Bill, said Quilty, is to establish a level playing field for all telecommunications carriers.

Other aspects of the Bill include measures to encourage investment in broadband infrastructure and other key services, the provision of better and easier access to the industry by reviewing the ACCC's arbitration process, and improving the process by which suspected anti-competitive behaviour is monitored and addressed by the ACCC.

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