The Telecommunications Commissioner

July 5th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Computerworld reports:

 Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran will ask the Auditor General to investigate the appointment of as telecommunications commissioner.

Gale’s appointment, announced today, confirms industry rumours that the incumbent would not be re-appointed. 

First of all I want to say that I think Ross Patterson did a very good job as the Telecommunications Commissioner. If he had been re-appointed, I would have regarded that as a good thing. I think the determinations made by the Commission were generally the right ones, and helped promote competition.

Telecommunications is always a challenging regulatory area, for two reasons. The first is that inter-connection issues are huge. It doesn’t matter (for example) if you have VHS and Beta video recorders and tapes that are not compatible. However it does matter if you are unable to call a Vodafone mobile from a Telecom mobile (for example). Could you imagine the Internet if one could not e-mail people at another ISP?

The other issue, is that the “last mile” network tends to almost always be a monopoly as it is not economically efficient to have multiple sewerage pipes, multiple electricity lines, multiple phone lines etc into every residence.

So the Commission has to balance up competition, investment, consumers and providers. It is not an easy job, and as I said I thought Ross Patterson did a good job.

I look forward to Dr Gale hopefully also performing so well.

I want to deal with some myths around the appointment though. The first is that Patterson was not re-appointed at the behest of Sky TV. I don’t know who invented this fantasy, but it simply is not true. I happened to be talking to some Sky TV people a few weeks ago, and I asked them about this. They told me that Sky TV had never expressed a view on who the Telco Commissioner should be to anyone in Government, or at all. The Official Information Act would disclose any communications – there has been none.

As it happens, the appointment of Dr Gale was recommended by an independent panel consisting of Brent Layton (chair of the panel), chairperson of the Electricity Authority, Liz Sinclair, deputy commissioner at the State Services Commission and Mark Steel, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s economic development branch. There were 44 applicants for the role, and they recommended Dr Gale. I think it is unfair to those three officials, plus Dr Gale, to push conspiracy theories with no evidental basis about his appointment.

As I said, I would have been very happy for Patterson to be re-appointed. But I don’t think there is some sinister conspiracy involving Sky TV around him not being re-appointed.  It is possible that his 10 month absence from the job for an alcohol-related illness was a factor – I heard there was a run in with the then Chair, which won’t have helped.

Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran will ask the Auditor General to investigate the appointment of Stephen Gale as telecommunications commissioner.

Curran claims that a “new direction taken by the telecommunications commissioner role is to focus on the interests of investors, rather than consumers.”

In today’s announcement, ICT Minister Amy Adams specifically mentioned investors while congratulating Gale on his appointment. “Dr Gale impressed the panel with his wide range of experience in regulated industries and his ability to articulate the role of the regulator to promote the interests of consumers through encouraging competition and ensuring that investors have the incentives to invest over the long-term,” she wrote.

It is simply incorrect to say the Minister’s press release represents a new focus on investors over consumers. The Minister is simply quoting from the Telecommunications Act 2001 that Labour passed. S18 says:

(1) The purpose of this Part and Schedules 1 to 3 is to promote competition in telecommunications markets for the long-term benefit of end-users of telecommunications services within New Zealand by regulating, and providing for the regulation of, the supply of certain telecommunications services between service providers.

(2)In determining whether or not, or the extent to which, any act or omission will result, or will be likely to result, in competition in telecommunications markets for the long-term benefit of end-users of telecommunications services within New Zealand, the efficiencies that will result, or will be likely to result, from that act or omission must be considered.

(2A)To avoid doubt, in determining whether or not, or the extent to which, competition in telecommunications markets for the long-term benefit of end-users of telecommunications services within New Zealand is promoted, consideration must be given to the incentives to innovate that exist for, and the risks faced by, investors in new telecommunications services that involve significant capital investment and that offer capabilities not available from established services.

So no there is nothing sinister about the Minister summarizing the Act, and it does not represent a new direction.

Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran will ask the Auditor General to investigate the appointment of Stephen Gale as telecommunications commissioner.

“It is my understanding that the appointment of his (Ross Patterson’s) successor – Stephen Gale – may have breached public sector requirements, specifically around the appointment process and description of the appointment. To that effect I will today request that the Auditor General investigate this appointment,” Curran says.

When the role was first advertised in March it contained basic errors – for example it mentioned one of the responsibilities of the Commissioner as overseeing operational separation, even though that ended last year. 

As far as I know, you can’t get the Auditor-General to investigate an appointment, just because you wanted someone else to be appointed. Yes an advertisement had an error in it, but decisions are made on the full job description, not on newspaper advertisements. With 44 applicants. it is not as if an ad without that error would have meant someone was put off applying, who would have been better than the 44 who did apply.

I think this complaint to the Auditor-General comes closes to being vexatious. Now I’ve worked as a staffer in Opposition. I understand the reality, that most of the time when the Opposition complains to the Auditor-General they know they will probably not get an investigation. They are doing it, just to get the headline about a request for an investigation. National did it, Labour does it, the Greens do it. Opposition MPs of course have the right to ask the Auditor-General to investigate anything.

However I would submit that there should be at least a modicum of belief that your complaint may succeed. I don’t think anyone can seriously think that the recommendation of an independent panel with 44 applicants, should be over-turned by the Auditor-General because there was an error in a newspaper advertisement (which has been known about for three months anyway).

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12 Responses to “The Telecommunications Commissioner”

  1. La Grand Fromage (145 comments) says:

    Heard Curran on Nat Rad talking about this.

    She is a total fucking moron. In my opinion the more she gets to talk in public the better it is for National.

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  2. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    Ask anyone who has spent time applying for jobs during their career. It’s very common for advertisements, and even the position descriptions (though not the contracts), to be inaccurate. Partly I think because they’re often written by HR.

    But as Labour MPs generally haven’t spent much time applying for jobs, I can understand why Curran is confused.

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  3. bhudson (4,720 comments) says:

    For Curren it is all about message, not substance.

    Edit: Just like Grant Robertson’s little flyer on the National Party and the environment

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  4. virtualmark (1,423 comments) says:

    Clare Curran should have known she was trying to flog a dog that won’t run when she couldn’t even persuade the dripping wet left-leaning Geoff Robinson on Morning Report today.

    The woman is an idiot.

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  5. gravedodger (1,426 comments) says:

    The AG has far too much on her plate Clare, just call for a Commission of inquiry before the bejaded one does it.

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  6. Manolo (12,643 comments) says:

    No surprise Labour is in the shit, when its spokesperson is an intellectual dwarf like Clare Curran, a woman who exudes moronity.

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  7. mikenmild (8,904 comments) says:

    I also heard Curran on radio this morning. The Minister (Amy Adams) was unavailable, so the presenter had to take the government’s postion, as had also happened with the previous item on biosecurity, which ended up in a farcical interview with Damien O’Connor which seemed to centre on the previous Labour government’s approach, because the Minister was ‘on holiday’.

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  8. davidp (3,329 comments) says:

    >I think this complaint to the Auditor-General comes closes to being vexatious.

    So Curran is like Benjamin Easton, just without a sledgehammer.

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  9. double d (219 comments) says:

    fuck it …… lets just have an inquiry …

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  10. Licinius (3 comments) says:

    Agree with your point here DPF but to be clear, subsection (2A) of section 18 (the bit that talks about incentives to invest) did not appear in the original version of the Telecommunicaions Act 2001 as passed by Labour and was inserted as of July 2011 by the Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2011. So the focus is arguably ‘new’.

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  11. libertyscott (355 comments) says:

    Ridiculous job, should be disbanded at once.

    For nine years National proudly told the world this sector didn’t need a sector-specific regulator, competition had dramatically pushed down prices, there was a new entrant willing to role out hybrid-fibre coax broadband in main centres with competing local call service, and taxpayers weren’t being expected to subsidise think big plans for state owned service providers.

    The interconnection issue is a red herring, and has long been so. There are agreements now, the main players all have significant market share. Why would Telecom and Vodafone NOT agree to interconnect? It’s utterly absurd. It’s like saying “what would happen if airlines didn’t exchange baggage and cargo with each other” or “what would happen if you couldn’t send money from one bank to another”.

    The last mile argument is also overblown. It has long been feasible for main centres to have duplicate local networks, you already have it in Wellington and Christchurch, and mobile networks add yet another two.

    It’s about time that there was a fundamental review of this 10 year old experiment in micro-regulation, and start figuring out how the state can withdraw.

    Except of course National is in power, and it’s Muldoon Mark 2 with the grand state owned broadband network being rolled out in gloriously high speed fibre to ensure the peasants can watch video of their beloved leaders to thank them for their benevolence, and the ability to quickly access local porn sites with ease.

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  12. Anthony (737 comments) says:

    You really don’t have any idea. We only just got mobile interconnection at reasonable rates after regulation. The market won’t sort itself out!

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