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Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering

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Date: Thu, 29 Oct 2009 17:57:54 +1100

The Australian government seems to be serious about loosening Telstra's vice-like grip on the throat of the communications sector. For a little while it seemed that it might become a major circus involving political horse-trading, over-blown rhetoric, corporate spin, financial analysis and bullshit. We all braced ourselves for talk about "share-holders". But the debate seems to have shifted towards the concerns of consumers.

The Telstra fiasco has been brewing for a long time. It has been a sad and complex project of mismanagement and bureaucratic incompetence bubbling away on the Canberra stove for well over two decades. Here is a quick recap.

John Howard (remember him?) had always felt decidedly "cheated" by his predecessors, the Hawk/Keating Labor government, who had carried out an aggressive campaign of economic reform. Between them, Hawk and Keating had sold off just about everything that wasn't nailed down.

The main reason for Howard's disappointment was that he believed the reforms were just the sort of things that they (the Liberals) should have done rather than Labor! Still, to make up for it, the Liberal government eventually set about their own reform agenda. And so they ripped up the stuff that really had been nailed down and sold that off also ... One of the extraordinary success stories for the Howard government, at least in political terms, was the manner in which they contrived to sell back to Australian voters and consumers a company that they already owned ... Namely Telstra.

This sleight of hand was accomplished with much self-congratulation and triumphant rousing cheers from the financial sector and share-brokers everywhere. However it has stifled communications and almost killed off any possibility of real competition in the sector.

For a brief moment there was a glimmer of hope for consumers when Allan Fels, who was appointed as head of the ACCC, initially to oversee policing pricing policies to prevent price-gouging during the GST startup, seemed to be preparing a case against Telstra (and Oil Companies). But then the Liberal government sacked him! Which caused great celebrations in boardrooms of Telstra and all Oil companies ... Obviously Fels had been getting way too good at his job ... And worst of all was taking it seriously!

And it is true that Telstra did return dividends to shareholders. That is the when they had some left over from the handsome rewards they bestowed on their executives!

But then it was time to ... Meet the new boss.

The new Labor government appointed Senator Conroy to take over the Communications portfolio. He soon lost his way in the morass of trying to rid the Internet of pornography. It had also been a pet project for the previous government and was and still is a foolish waste of time and money. Lately however, the government seems to found some resolve to tackle the Telstra problem.

The new broadband network would, it was hoped, help re-structure communications and facilitate e-commerce.

However Telstra "refrained" from making a tender for the Broadband Network. Later, Senator Conroy coyly extended a hand of friendship. In May, he offered them a chance of participating in the National Broadband Network (NBN), if they (Telstra) would hive off a portion of their wholesale division. But this offer was re-buffed.

Nevertheless Senator Conroy approached Telstra yet again. This time with a gun in his hand! In September, Conroy let it be known that if Telstra didn't "volunteer" to split off their wholesale division, then the parliament would do it for them. Commentators everywhere agreed that this was "an offer they couldn't refuse".

But, as you are no doubt aware, dear reader, Telstra did refuse, with characteristic truculence.

Now Senator Conroy has gone back into his study. And for the past month has been carefully cleaning his rifle. Remarkably for a Telecommunications company Telstra have maintained their sang froid. They seem to be willing to mix it in the political arena and may even be hoping that the legislation will be blocked in The Senate.

But there has been one itsy bitsy thing Telstra seems to have forgotten ... Their customers! Remember customers dear reader? Those poor hapless sods who the increasingly arrogant Telstra consider so stupid, as to be beneath contempt? Possibly dear reader, you are one of those miserable forlorn customers? And it seems that some of you, even if you aren't that bright, are smart enough to realise when you are being screwed! And you may not all vote at Telstra shareholder meetings ... But almost all of you vote in General Elections!

And at long last it seems that Telstra may be getting a little nervous. They have now announced that they will accept Senator Conroy's kind offer and may even participate in the NBN.

Of course if there is going to be even the remotest possibility of genuine competition in the telecommunications market, Telstra will have to be separated from the wholesale marketing of bandwidth. And if the separation cannot be done with some paperwork, perhaps a crowbar or an axe will do the job! And there is always that rifle that Conroy has been cleaning in his Canberra office.


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