Local call network ruling rings in changes

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) yesterday ruled to allow Telstra's competitors access to the carrier's local network.

The mandate rubber stamps an ACCC draft decision made late last year, and means competitors can connect into Telstra's local network, accessing, without restrictions, the copper lines which connect customers to local telephone exchanges.

"Telstra's competitors will be able to provide local and long-distance, as well as advanced high-speed services, to customers at lower prices," Professor Allan Fels, ACCC chairman, said.

"The declaration of local call wholesale services will ensure service providers will continue to obtain discounts that are likely to increase over time, thus reducing local call prices," he said.

The ACCC believes local call prices will drop below 20 cents within two years, as a result of yesterday's decision.

"The decision has large implications not only in the short-term for the provision of local calls, but for the emerging high-bandwidth services on which e-commerce, education and entertainment will increasingly rely into the next decade," Fels said.

"In the ACCC's view, without this decision, it is unlikely that such services would have been made available on a reasonable commercial basis. Competitors would be overly dependent on Telstra's choice of technologies, platforms, service processes and timing."

Telstra competitor AAPT was jubilant at the decision.

"Finally, the last bastion of Telstra's monopoly has fallen and the national network it inherited earlier this decade has been opened up to competition," said Brian Perkins, group director, regulatory and legal, AAPT.

"The importance of this decision on AAPT's business cannot be overstated as this is a critical element in our total access strategy. We now have the opportunity to drive revenue growth by delivering a wide range of services through a combination of Telstra's local network and our own complementary access technologies," Perkins continued.

Rosemary Howard, managing director, domestic wholesale, Telstra, said Telstra had been expecting the decision, and yesterday revealed products which will open up its local network to wholesale customers.

The new products - HDSL Link and City Digital Service (CDS) - available from next month, will provide high-speed Internet and data access to Telstra's network.

"Apart from introducing wholesale products to serve the needs of our customers, Telstra has also been working with key industry bodies to facilitate access to Telstra's network in line with the ACCC's decision," Howard said.

"Access will benefit our retail and wholesale customers so long as industry-wide protocols are developed that ensure Telstra's local service network remains a reliable platform, with assured availability and service quality."

"To that end, we have been working with the Australian Communications Industry Forum and the Telecommunications Access Forum, the two main industry bodies, to develop service and access protocols and equipment specifications."

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