THINK TANK: Never give a sucker an even break

THINK TANK: Never give a sucker an even break

It's all very trendy to kick the incumbent Government in an election year, but there needs to be scrutiny of some of the milestones of all Governments over the past 20 years with a view to one industry in particular.

If you were to say the telecommunications industry in this region is dynamic, you would be guilty of huge understatement, to be sure. To say it is deregulated would be a crime of overstatement in equal proportion.

The answer to the issues faced by this industry is for the Federal Government to consider a degree of re-regulation in order that some aspects of Telstra's business be deregulated in a more staged and controlled manner - all over again. This would not be to penalise Telstra, although it might have that impact initially. Eventually, such a venture might provide a much freer and competitive marketplace. After all, isn't that what it was all about in the first place?

There are any number of individuals and organisations that have just cause to doubt that deregulation has borne all the promised fruit. Let's look at some of the issues:n Why has the 3G auction yielded only half what was expected? Doesn't the industry hold much promise for those who have the available funds to invest in Australia's IT&T future?n Complaints have been aired in the media that the DSL roll-out by Telstra is too slow. ISDN pricing reflects the degree of deregulation (or lack of it) of this product/technology. Are the two linked in some way?n Mobile number portability is still not a reality despite it being the hot topic of the early 90s. All mobile carriers bear some responsibility for this delay.n Why is it that our Pay TV set-top box standard is so _limiting that many manufacturers will not bother manufacturing for this very small market?

Now, we can perhaps point the finger at Telstra for some of these issues, but is it really that company's fault? If you were in its position, wouldn't you do exactly as it does?

I do not blame Telstra for its behaviour per se; the situation is a product of a weak regulator as well as a weak enforcement body, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). It could be said that Telstra has subscribed to the old adage, "Never give a sucker an even break." Perhaps the current situation - where competition is languishing and smaller operators that are more nimble and responsive to customer needs are being kept out - may be laid squarely at the feet of the Federal Government.

It is not too late to correct some of the errors made in the haste to secure investors' funds from the sale of Telstra. At the very least, caution should be exercised before any more of the telecommunications giant is let loose in the free enterprise market without some hint of public ownership by the government, and ergo, some form of government control.

But that's another story . . . Peter Kelly is senior business development manager, _telecoms, D-Link Australia and New Zealand

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