DBCDE urges caution in Senate's Sensis probe

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DBCDE urges caution in Senate's Sensis probe

Scope could overstep regulatory boundaries.

The Department of Broadband is urging caution on a proposal before the Senate to force Telstra to produce directories in Australia as part of its carrier license conditions.

First assistant secretary of digital economy services within the department, Keith Besgrove, said in a Senate Committee submission (pdf) there was a danger that the current proposal could be beyond the scope of what Telstra activities can be regulated.

Specifically, Besgrove said while production of the White Pages is already one of Telstra's carrier license conditions, the Yellow Pages directory is produced on a commercial basis and such activity isn't — and probably shouldn't be — regulated.

"The Department notes that it would be important to consider the intended scope of the proposal and whether it would regulate products that are not current regulated or required by telecommunications legislation, but are provided by Telstra on the basis of its own commercial decisions," Besgrove said.

He indicated the trend over time had been to "gradually reduce the number of obligations placed on Telstra in areas where there is now a competitive market".

Besgrove also said Telstra had only just come out of a review of its carrier licensing conditions, brought about by regulatory consideration of structural separation and the introduction of the NBN.

He urged the committee to seek advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Office of Trade Negotiations on the basis that forcing Telstra/Sensis to produce directories in Australia may "have implications associated with Australia's trade obligations", though he did not specify what they might be.

DFAT said in a submission of its own that an Australian production mandate could run counter to current and future free trade agreements, of which Australia is a signatory.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union also provided a submission, backing the committee's push to force Sensis to keep production work and jobs onshore. (pdf)

Telstra is also expected to make a submission to the inquiry sometime before the end of today.

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