Tuesday 22 September 2009

Splitting Telstra - 2010's stupidest idea

Anyone remember what Telstra was like back when it was either Telecom or the Post Master General's Department? I do, and if I recall correctly, its service was absolute shit. People loathed Telecom with a passion - and that loathing was so fierce, when Optus came along, it went from nothing to a company with billions in revenue in no time at all. People were desperate to get away from Telstra.

I am not a big fan of Telstra. I use some of their products, and I have had many, many dealings with them through work. Most of those dealings have been frustrating, expensive and unpleasant. However, I have also dealt with every other carrier in Australia, and my experiences with them have been about the same. A pox on all their houses. Telstra regularly gets caned for its behaviour and performance, but that does not mean that it is several orders of magnitude worse than TPG, Soul, Optus, Vodafone, AAPT, Virgin, Pipe, PowerTel and so on. These companies can be total shockers - but they are insulated or protected by being so much smaller, and therefore less visible, than the 800 pound gorilla known as Telstra.

The saving grace of all these companies is that they are private companies. They are at least driven by market forces and beholden to shareholders. That means that they occasionally have some good features, and at odd times, they impress even the most hardened sceptics.

But from what I can see, the aim of the federal government is to create a Telecom Mk II. A government owned clusterfuck beholden to a boneheaded minister in Canberra. A government authority immune to market forces and unrestrained by shareholders; yet nourished by taxpayer largesse. Telstra has spent years shedding the bureaucratic sloth that decades of public sector employment conditions and union feather-bedding created. And now, we're going to do it all over again.

Hate Telstra all you like, but please don't tell me that you think Conroy's fantasy is a good idea. My bet is that he wants to be the Mussolini of the digital age - making the bytes run on time, or whatever. Conroy should remember that Mussolini ended up being strung up by his heels from a lamp post.

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