By Patrick Avenell at the Gold Coast
GOLD COAST, QLD: Optus CEO Paul O’Sullivan is hung up on the Gold Coast. Not because his own network isn’t working here – it is to a BlackBerry’s full bar capacity – but because he thinks there needs to be more NBN regulation, primarily to stop Telstra from creating a competition-free monopoly on the new tech infrastructure.
In a speech to technology journalists to open a three day IT conference, O’Sullivan stayed on message throughout, continually urging the gathered journalists to become advocates for competition, with the preconceived notion being that competition invariably leads to innovation.
Except for one brief moment when O’Sullivan imposed his own moratorium on promoting regulation to swing a cricket bat at Vodafone, saying they are being “punished by the market”, the message from Australia’s second biggest telco was clear: we want regulation.
In fact, the Optus chief’s preoccupation with the NBN, and through it Telstra, was unnerving. O’Sullivan barely spoke about new products or services, and when he did it was only to say he wasn’t going to discuss a proposed Optus LTE (Long Term Evolution).
There’s nothing wrong with macro planning, especially from the CEO, but after a year in which Telstra started releasing its own consumer electronics products (T-Hub and the T-Touch Tab, for example), some proof that this competition does lead to innovation would have been more convincing.
“I have come out very strongly when I felt competition was at risk,” said O’Sullivan. “One of my concerns right now is that we face a critical period in the industry: the debate about how we develop it [the telecommunications industry] has been shrunk.
“It’s now being written about as a political debate and many of the issues that Australians need to hear about and discuss are not being put out in front of them.”
O’Sullivan’s answer for this “risk” and “critical period” is regulation. He wants a lot of it.
“The NBN is almost certainly going to be built,” said O’Sullivan, which lead him to discuss his four big issues. These were Telstra, Government, Regulation and Industry. So important are these four factors (and this journalist was surprised to see a CEO post a slide bolding displaying the name of its fiercest rival), that O’Sullivan asked, almost pleaded, with journalists to write more articles promoting discussion of these issues.
“We need a much greater level of transparency around the deals that are being done right now between NBN Co and the Government and third parties,” said O’Sullivan.
At the core of O’Sullivan’s desire for more regulation is his need for Optus to be more competitive in its profitability. O’Sullivan said Telstra scoops 72 per cent of all profits generated by telecommunications companies. This is on the back of Telstra’s 61 per cent stake in all telco revenues. Optus ‘languishes’ in second with a mere 23 per cent.
“It is certainly true that the NBN is going to facilitate greater access to more households…but the big mistake, and many people are making it today, is to believe that just rolling out the NBN itself is going to ensure that there is real choice in those households,” said O’Sullivan, clearly suggesting that Telstra is priming itself for a new NBN-based monopoly on these newly NBN-atised households.
So the answer is greater transparency, according to O’Sullivan, so that Optus can have a share in a duopoly. Famous libertarian, professional wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura once said that the two-party system is just communism plus one. O’Sullivan seems happy with these fractured form of democracy, as long as he’s in the two.