Finally, Steven Joyce seems to have woken up to the fact that he’s a Minister, and there’s a crisis happening in one of his many portfolios. And when there’s a crisis, the public like to think that the government takes charge.
He’s waited way too long to make a move. And that will cost him. I don’t think he’s behaving like a strong Minister, and I think it’s interesting that despite the persona, the Telecom crisis saw him standing back wringing his hands, saying while it was “concerned, the government couldn’t really do anything”.
Suddenly, this afternoon, that changed. He decided the government did have a role after all. I wonder whether it was because John Key told him to say something and he finally asked for some advice.
For a Minister who has seemed almost unnaturally averse to the concept of regulation, it was a surprise to hear Steven Joyce say today that the government may have to regulate. Out of character.
This is some of what he said:
… ensuring 111 calls made from mobile telephone networks get through is vital.
“The recent spate of outages on the XT network has exposed some shortcomings in this area and officials have been working urgently with Telecom since last evening to address these issues.”
Currently, Telecom is obliged under the Telecommunications Services Obligation (TSO) to provide emergency calling on its fixed network. However, mobile phones are not covered by the TSO.
Mr Joyce says that the government may need to regulate to ensure that operators prioritise 111 calls in situations where networks become unstable.
Well, it’s taken days for him to come to that view and I believe he’s been negligent in not getting involved earlier.
It’s ironic that he’s talking about regulation, the day after it appeared he would lean towards not regulating the termination rates on mobile calls, after two of the main players, Vodafone and Telecom offered to further phase in a reduction of rates.
Maybe he’s realising that customers need to come first. It’s a reality that there must be a charge for terminating a call or text, but it needs to be fair. For the consumer and also for the third player in the marketplace. But he’s acted too late and and he’s shown himself not to be strong and decisive.
Maybe he’s finally realised that where a significant public interest is at stake, the government does have a role. Watch this space, because the PM has a political nose and he’ll get involved. And if he does, then Steven will be damaged.
This isn’t just about the XT network. It’s about NZ Inc.