Monday, June 20, 2011

Telcos - get your act in gear

In the SMH on the weekend it was reported that the rest of the telco industry had declined an invitation to get together with David Thodey "in good faith to meet together to discuss the challenges and opportunities we face as an industry at a time of unprecedented change."

His colleagues decided to interpret the invitation entirely through the lens of "access seekers" and reject the discussion on the basis they want serious regulation, and this image is potentially reinforced by the fact that when others declined the head of Wholesale chose to interpret the act as indicating that his customers had no areas of concern.

However, Thodey was really returning to a proposition he advanced in his Comms Day Summit speech (though the speech is not on the Telstra speech site).

In that speech Thodey said;

If – as an industry – we want to get the policy settings right we must have a stronger voice. With that in mind, let me come back to the question of how our industry can play a wider role and be a catalyst for change and growth.
o If we accept that technology is changing the way we live and work …
o If we accept that – thanks to next generation networks and technologies – our industry is now at the heart of an increasingly digital nation …
o If we accept all that as a given what, as an industry, are we doing about it?

Are we – as a group – stepping up and taking a leadership position on matters of national importance?
o Do we speak with a united voice when it matters?
o Are we seriously tackling endemic issues – such as our industry’s reputation on customer service and accountability?
o Or are we still thinking like a peripheral – rather than a national – industry?

I believe we are not stepping up to this challenge well enough … The failure to use our social, economic and political capital means that we don’t receive the credit or the influence we deserve.

Ah well. At least he tried. He went on in the speech to say "One of the first areas where, as an industry, we need to start leading is customer service. Poor service undermines our public credibility." In this he is echoing the Minister who was quoted in the Sunday Age again putting the industry on notice, saying;

I sympathise with customers who have suffered poor service at the hands of the telecommunications companies. It is simply not good enough and now they are effectively on notice that if they don't improve their practices themselves, the government will step in to ensure consumers get quality customer service.

One could, of course, question whether the meeting needs to take place given that Communications Alliance exists as the voice of industry (though I can never win the argument that it is not a "peak" body, because peak bodies are made up of other bodies). It is rewarding to see that, after a period of decline, the seniority of the people who make up the CA Board is now mostly direct reports to Chief Executives. David to his credit helped us in a critical phase at AMTA by agreeing to serve on its Board after it too went through a brief period languishing under insufficient representation on the Board.

Perhaps Thodey's mistake was to not ask CA to facilitate the meal. It is a little known fact that we did try in meetings hosted by ACIFs (CAs predecessor) Anne Hurley between Phil Burgess, Paul Fletcher and myself (representing AAPT) in 2006 try to close the gap between Telstra and the G9 - an initiative I originally put to Phil in November 2005. However, Phil could never really bring any movement from Sol to the table, and Optus was always convinced everything from Telstra was a con (see Fletcher's book).

There is an old adage - if what you are doing isn't working try anything else. Thodey's idea is good as a "do anything else". If the direct invitation hasn't worked, then see if someone else can organise it.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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