Open digital services ‘or else’

AUSTRALIA’S consumer watchdog Professor Allan Fels has given Telstra and Optus an ultimatum to establish open digital services or face regulation.

Speaking at the Australian Telecom Cisco lecture in Sydney, he said that cable TV companies like Foxtel and Telstra had frustrated independent TV suppliers trying to gain access to cables controlled by them.

“They have engaged in lengthy campaigns to prevent access to competing pay TV providers and slowed down the process,” he said.

“They are both willing and able to devote considerable energy and resources to such activities.”

He indicated that he would not tolerate this sort of activity as a digital network rolls out.

“Digital platform owners have a choice,” he said.

“They can take the early initiative in opening up their networks for digital services and create significant opportunities and benefits to themselves and their customers.

“Alternatively, they can take the regressive step of maintaining closed shops – and then face the inevitable demands from potential retail competitors, governments and customers for regulatory intervention.”

He said that broadband networks, including hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) and satellite networks, would be the means by which a whole range of high quality TV digital broadcasting, telecommunications, data and video services, would be delivered to Australians in the future.

Both Telstra and Optus were digitising their networks.

“Potential suppliers of retail programming need to have access to the networks if competition is to develop and diverse service choices are to be made,” Professor Fels said.

He pointed out that access to HFC cable for the delivery of analogue pay-TV was mandated in 1999, but at that time there was considerable uncertainty about the emerging digital environment and it was decided to keep the delivery of digital services under review.

“It is clearly in the interests of both suppliers or retail services and customers for broadband networks to be open rather than closed,” he said.

“This means that access to the networks should be available to non-discriminatory terms and conditions.”

He said regulations of digital platforms would need to be considered where commercial forces were being deliberately undermined and where the objective of an open access environment is being stifled.

“Legitimate market drivers should be given an opportunity to do their job,” Professor Fels said.

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