Telstra sell-off gives faint hope

03 Nov 2006

I used to believe in publicly-owned telcos until I actually worked for one.

For that reason, I can only applaud Telstra's imminent transition into majority private ownership.

The Australian government, after ten years of trying, has finally given the go-ahead to T3, the sale of the third tranche of the national incumbent, my employer a decade ago.

If you've been following Telstra's privatization, you will know that the tedium of the "debate" has been leavened only by the arrival of former US West chief Sol Trujillo as CEO.

Trujillo, a veritable human headline, has played brinkmanship with the government in order to wrest regulatory concessions ahead of the sell-off.

He's had some success with that, but as a customer or an investor, you'd like to think Trujillo was spending his time on the business; cutting costs, improving processes, meeting customers - all the things that a telco boss usually does.

At which point you can hear the loud bleating of Telstra lobbyists; of how the carrier, which runs more access networks than any other in the world, and which after 14 years of competition still controls 90% of fixed-line access, is "over-regulated". Of how rivals paying expensive interconnection and backhaul fees are "leaching" off its network.

Every incumbent in the world makes the same claims, though few with as little grace as Telstra. In any case, Telstra's problem is it is thoroughly politicized - more so than any other carrier in the region outside North Korea.

Shabby treatment

Every lobby group in the country is a "stakeholder" - consumer groups, business groups, state governments, unions and, most powerful of all, given their size, the rural lobbies. It doesn't help that it is Australia's most widely-held stock and that in a country with zero indigenous IT or telecom champions, it stands alone.

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