The chief executives of Australia’s top two telcos Telstra and Optus today acknowledged the existence of the Coalition’s new telecommunications policy unveiled last week — but judging from their responses, it may take another election before they start to take it seriously.
The policy revealed by Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull contains a number of new elements compared to the Coalition’s previous policy. It focuses on the retention and upgrade of the existing HFC cable networks operated by Telstra and Optus, as well as serving regional areas through satellite and wireless.
In addition, if implemented it would likely see Telstra separated into retail and wholesale arms, as much of the telecommunications industry has been calling for most of this decade.
Telstra chief executive David Thodey has driven a policy of conciliation with the Federal Government since taking on his role in mid-2009, reversing a relationship which at times appeared to verge on verbal warfare under the tenure of Telstra’s previous CEO Sol Trujillo and his public policy chief Phil Burgess. However, speaking at Telstra’s annual financial results briefint today, Thodey gave Turnbull’s new policy short shrift.
The policy contained “options not really relevant” until Turnbull was “in power” and had changed legislation regarding the telco sector, Thodey said, pointing out that Telstra was currently acting within the bounds of the regulatory environment which had been set, and adding that not only would the Coalition need to win Government to influence the sector, but it would need to change the law.
“In terms of Malcolm Turnbull’s policies, when he’s in power we’ll have a look at it,” he said.
Optus, for its own part, has worked with both sides of politics over the past decade, building a strong relationship with Coalition Government under John Howard that saw it awarded the so-called OPEL contract to build out regional wireless infrastructure. The contract was cancelled by Labor when it took power in late 2007, but the telco has recently successfully signed its own $800 million deal to shift customers onto the NBN as it’s rolled out.
Speaking at his own company’s financial results briefing today, Optus chief executive Paul O’Sullivan (pictured) said the telco wouldn’t take sides. “We take the view that we’ll work with whatever Government that is elected,” the executive said, noting that he didn’t think it was “appropriate” for a company to back any particular side of politics.
However, O’Sullivan noted it was good to see competitive debate about the future of the industry.
In addition, he added it was “pleasing” that both sides of politics had adopted the same approach in terms of the structural separation of Telstra, noting the step was important in fostering a properly competitive market. “There’s still some work to do to fully land it, but you can expect Optus to be a strong supporter of both parties in landing structural reforms,” O’Sullivan said.
Turnbull’s new policy appears to have attracted a muted response from the rest of the industry — with a number of fiery discussions flaring up after his speech on the matter last week, but few industry players coming out to discuss it in public.
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