Pressed by Curran, Key reaffirms govt willing to overrule Commerce Commission on Chorus pricing
On Monday, former Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson wrote a pointed editorial, accusing the government of "unprecedented" political interference with its refusal to rule out legislation that could overrule a draft Commerce Commission ruling that would slash what Chorus can charge for phone lines.
Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key had an opportunity to edge back from his original comments as Clare Curran questioned him in parliament.
He did not.
Here's the Hansard transcript:
CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the PRIME MINISTER: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
CURRAN: Does he stand by his statements regarding the draft Commerce Commission recommendations for wholesale broadband pricing, that “in its current form it would be very problematic” because “it substantially reduces the income of that company”, referring to Chorus , the Crown-back ultra-fast broadband network?
CURRAN: Why does he want most New Zealand households to pay around $12 a month more for their phone and internet services than they otherwise would?
KEY: Firstly, I would reject the proposition that they would be paying more. Secondly, I think it is important that New Zealand has a roll-out of ultra-fast broadband. Thirdly, it is quite correct that the Government has taken a very close look at that Commerce Commission ruling, which is an interim ruling.
CURRAN: Does he believe that it is a fundamental principle of our telecommunications regulatory regime that the regulator is independent to carry out its role without interference or undue political influence?
KEY: Of course. They are free to go about their work. The Government then is free to decide whether it wants to adopt that.
CURRAN: Will he rule out legislation if the Commerce Commission comes back with a final decision that his Government does not agree with?
KEY: Definitely not.
"Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the Telcommunications Act as it stands doesn’t allow the government to “decide whether it wants to adopt that” at all," Telecommunications Users' Association head Paul Brislen says.
"Far from it – the Act requires the Commissioner to make the decision."
But the Prime Minister, of course, is talking about changing the law.
Ms Curran has also seized on comments from ICT Minister Amy Adams that should the Commerce Commission's draft recommendation to slash Chorus line pricing go through (in two years' time, subject to industry consultation), the cuts are unlikely to flow through to consumers.
For broadband customers, and Chorus shareholders, these remain uncertain times.