16 September 2009

Telstra and the journosphere

Hooray for the kind-of historic telecommunication reforms - kind-of because they were long overdue, but if they'd been truly historic you know that Rudd would have announced them rather than allow Conroy to bob up from the murky depths of Victorian Labor and frighten people.
Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was yesterday accused by a prominent Victorian Labor MP of damaging the party's state election chances by interfering in the ALP's state branch.

Controversial MP and factional numbers man George Seitz launched the broadside after Senator Conroy embarrassed Premier John Brumby by baulking at Mr Brumby's choice for the key post of Labor state secretary.

"Conroy's behaviour is just appalling", Mr Seitz said. "He's gone against the Premier, publicly interfering, and people in marginal seats are in a panic because this material can be used in Liberal, National and Green election material."

Yeah, and doesn't election material count for a lot, George. Conroy hates state governments for the same reason that Tony Abbott and John Howard hated the idea of State Liberal governments: a dollar spent to re-elect the state government is unavailable to re-elect the federal government.

Conroy has shown that he can take on colossi like George Seitz and reform the nation's telecommunications structure at the same time. That's why Rudd was nowhere near this announcement today: there are no clear winners, just blood all over the place and Conroy with bits of still-warm gristle flecked all over his clothes, just how he (Conroy, not Rudd) likes it.

What was truly appalling were the reactions of the journosphere to this announcement, which has been almost inevitable ever since Rudd Labor took office. They jump like maggots in hot grease over a non-story like individual contracts, but when it comes to measured commentary on long-developing, far-reaching policy, they're useless:
Conroy's form as a Labor factional bovver boy is on display in today's rambunctious "my way or the highway" ultimatum to Telstra shareholders. In some ways it's a shame Trujillo isn't still around - his response would have been memorable.

What's missing from Conroy's swingeing attack on private property rights in his attempt to promote greater competition is the necessary admission of culpability: the perceived problem of Telstra competing with those who would like to have access to the network Telstra owns is all the Labor government's fault - not the fault of Telstra's shareholders who are now being ordered by Comrade Conroy to suck it up for the greater good.

No, not the fault of this Labor Government, but the previous one that stuffed up Telstra's privatisation in the first place. It's a bit rich that Conroy now wants to fix his predecessors' mistake by lumbering the cost and loss of rights onto the people Canberra encouraged to buy Telstra shares.

What's missing from Michael Pascoe's effort is any sense of what this might mean going forward. Yes, the regulatory regime was stuffed under Hawke, it stayed stuffed under Keating and got worse under Howard. If you bought Telstra shares, you're a sucker: nobody put a gun to your head. You should be grateful that all taxpayers aren't also shareholders, which was the case a dozen years or so ago.
And making Telstra a forced seller with Murdoch and Packer having first dibs is a dubious proposition. Is this why Kerry Stokes has been so keen at get a slice of Packer's Foxtel pie?

You've forgotten three important things:

  1. Kerry Packer is dead. When you talk about "Packer" these days Michael, you talk about the doofus who helped put One.Tel where it is today.

  2. Rupert Murdoch has taken his eye off the ball. Labor governments always do him favours, they're sick like that. If you love Labor or if you hate them, they know how to handle you, but if you're kind of indifferent to them they just can't cope.

  3. Would you like to bet that the regulatory environment would stay stable for said personages to keep milking Foxtel? Would you?

Pascoe, you're a goose. At least you're not journalistic pabulum like Betty Knight and Michelle Grattan. Between them they take a thousand words and thousands more in real estate that could be sold for ads just to say absolutely nothing: the laws change and you have to follow the law.

Why this insistence that replacing Telstra's old PMG lines with the fastest and best optic cable available is "duplication"? If the upheval in global telecommunications over the past twenty years has passed you by, you simply have no business being in journalism. It's not duplication, in the same way that motor vehicles and aeroplanes cannot be said to "duplicate" stagecoaches.
By late afternoon [yesterday], Telstra shares were down 14 cents, or 4.3 per cent, at $3.11, and the fall was capping gains in the broader market.

Yeah, well it's bounced back hasn't it, because everyone who fell about all shocked has been duly and deservedly fleeced. It's hard to complain about market rapacity when people thought they could hitch a ride on it with bloated Telstra. In the picture attached to that story, Thodey looks like someone who's been caught out by the police, you can imagine them to the right of that picture with tasers drawn.

Then, inevitably, because I just can't help it, we here at the Politically Homeless Institute were drawn to the Murdoch press:
Conroy’s tactics are unusual in that he has opened negotiations by swinging a big stick and, in effect, starting with his best punches, which doesn’t leave either side much room to move.

You don't punch someone with a stick, John.
The end game is open access infrastructure with Telstra competing on equal terms with everyone else, albeit from a huge competitive advantage in terms of its scale.

And the fact that it knows where the bodies are buried in the infrastructure, and the fact that it knows its competitors' business as well as its own.
The choice for Telstra is clear: if it doesn’t agree to voluntary separation, it will face a legislated version of so-called functional separation and denial of new spectrum and possible forced divestiture of Foxtel and its HFC cable.

Does anyone believe that crap abourt denial of spectrum? If Trujillo was here he'd have a brace of lawyers dragging Conroy to the High Court, saying that it was discriminatory and anti-competitive to deny it the right to participate in its market. Conroy might be able to monster George Seitz, but a cashed-up and arrogant corporation is a different proposition. Jennifer Hewett, though, is on the side of plucky little Telstra:
This is less “constructive” commercial negotiation than the Minister portrays and more about battering Telstra with a very big stick until it cries uncle.

Until it cries what? I think Otis the barman has been pouring you some of your husband's hooch, Jen. Here's where the sympathy dries up and the comic potential of Hewett's piece comes out shining:
It basically wants Telstra to subsume its wholesale business into the government's new NBN CO -- under terms and conditions still to be negotiated.

Poor little Telstra is getting some free infrastructure. Imagine how Frank Lowy would feel if the government built him some new shopping centres, or how Asciano's Mark Rowsthorn would feel if the feds built him some new rail lines and port facilities. Ow, ow, stop hitting me.

If you must go into the past, why wouldn't you go after this clown, especially as he's committed the prime error of sticking his silly head up? This was the guy who said that Telstra would never, ever split. This was the guy who sold shareholders the dog that has since bit them. He's squealing like a stuck pig because he's been found out, he can't argue against the anti-competitive nature of the status quo and has nothing to offer but scaremongering. The journosphere should round on Minchin, and with that the Liberal Party should realise that he, like Abbott, has nothing to offer their future.
In April the Government announced it would build its own fibre-to-the-Home network through a private/public partnership funding, after it scrapped the tender process.

But it will want Telstra's involvement in the rollout to take advantage of its assets, expertise and to avoid costly duplication of infrastructure.

What expertise? They outsource all that stuff anyway, there's nothing stopping the government doing the same.

The journosphere are focussed on stuff which doesn't matter, stuff which doesn't help us understand what's about to happen to our telecommunications industry (other than "ooh, it's radical") or even their own place within that. This policy has been in train for two fucking years, the share market is cool with that - what do analysts know that the journosphere doesn't? There was once a time that this wouldn't have been possible, but now that it is it's the journosphere that has suffered.

When the history of 21st century telecommunications is written communicated somehow, this garbage won't be the first draft. It won't be anything at all, just like it is today (other than expensive for their employers).

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