Monday, October 12, 2009

Telstra, Budde and what the hell next

There are times when it is my job to read documents that I find really hard because you want to stop every second sentence and shout at the author.

The Telstra submission to the Senate on the legislation announced by Stephen Conroy as historic telco reforms is one of those. The reason for wanting to shout are the contradictions inherent in the paper. The first is that Telstra has long argued that the excessive regulation of them is a disincentive to invest, but try to argue they've out-invested the rest of industry. The second is to claim that there is some cost and innovation benefit in being vertically integrated but that Telstra's wholesale customers can get an equivalence for competition by some simple changed rules on transparency.

The first of these is actually fallacious because Telstra contrasts its revenue share to its investment share, whereas the correct comparison is its EBITDA share to its investment share. On that basis it is "under investing." But under investing is actually a demonstration of its market power - only someone with market power ever has an option to not invest.

The second is just so much hypocrisy. Apart from its own internal flaw, what part of "it's a bit late now" doesn't Telstra understand? It has had plenty of opportunity since 1997 to behave the way they now promise to.

Meanwhile we see an industry commentator falling over himself to trumpet the wonders of the new Telstra, and even prior to their submission echoing the suggestion we should just try to work all this out. I'm actually with Paul on this to some extent. I don't think the long term interest of the industry are served by leaving Government and regulators at the core of it - I diverge from the views of many of my industry colleagues in this.

But the view being promoted by Paul and being demanded by Telstra is a little bit like coming back after the invasion of Chekoslavakia promising peace in our time. The time for appeasement is over.

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