As the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, launched into his morning press conference announcing the Government’s move to divide Telstra by force, voices of celebration rose up across the land.
From Optus and AAPT to analysts and politicians, the glee was barely containable.
“It is a landmark decision that has the potential to change the entire telecommunications landscape forever, resulting in considerable benefits for all Australians,” Optus Chief Executive, Paul O’Sullivan, said.
But there is a very fine line between applauding a good decision and gloating unfairly over a fallen foe.
“The sector has been dysfunctional and that has been largely driven by Telstra's behaviour,” Optus director of government and corporate affairs, Maha Krishnapillai, added.
Even the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman, Graeme Samuel, took a bite out of Telstra’s prone body in an article for The Australian.
“I call it a telco revolution. It is a quantum leap for competition and consumers, and the ACCC welcomes what is being proposed,” he said.
But the besieged giant threatened with fundamental dismantling stood quietly to one side, mumbled its disappointment and moved along.
“While we are disappointed the government has felt it necessary to introduce this legislation, Telstra remains committed to working with the government to find a solution that is in the best interests of the industry, the nation, Telstra and our shareholders,” Telstra CEO, David Thodey, said in the telco’s only media statement on the issue.
It’s undeniable that Telstra under its former CEO, Sol Trujillo, was a public relations disaster. Thumbing its nose at rivals, customers and the Government alike, it was inevitable that comeuppance was just around the corner.
But in recent months since Trujillo’s departure, the telco has revitalised and changed course.
Telstra had emerged making all the right noises; encouraging cooperation with governments and infrastructure development for customers. While many in the ICT industry are rightly jaded having heard years of spin from Trujillo, not one organisation has arguably given Telstra the credit it deserves.
Despite Conroy’s claims of giving Telstra the “flexibility to choose its future path”, the legislation is all about the stick with nary a carrot in sight.
“Telstra will be prevented from acquiring additional spectrum for advanced wireless broadband while it…remains vertically integrated; and owns a hybrid fibre coaxial cable network; and maintains its interest in Foxtel,” the minister’s statement said. “If Telstra chooses not to structurally separate, the legislation provides for the Government to impose a strong functional separation framework on Telstra.”
In simple terms, Telstra is being given the ‘choice’ between a lobotomy or commercial stagnation. Despite the best efforts of Thodey and his newly developed team, his company now faces a sledgehammer to the body, a tsunami of angry shareholders and a flock of vultures circling overhead.
So the next time you go to cackle over the fallen tall poppy, spare a thought for those within Telstra that pushed for change along with the millions of mum and dad investors who could lose a lot of dosh.