Telstra public policy group managing director David Quilty has called for a "concerted effort" from the telecommunications industry to rebuild the sector's reputation among customers, business leaders and politicians.
Speaking at the CommsDay Summit in Melbourne, Quilty said that while it "may sound like tripe", but the first thing needed in preparation for an NBN world was for the sector to start rebuilding its reputation.
"As an industry we've never effectively explained why [the sector is] so essential to the nation's future economic prosperity," he said.
"We've allowed ourselves to be ignored by policy makers and business leaders alike. This can't continue."
Quilty said that a "concerted effort" was required to make the industry one that was "looked up to" and that held widespread support.
The call found support from the Institute for the Broadband Enabled Society (IBES).
"We don't do nearly enough to spruik the fundamental importance of telecommunications in our society," IBES executive director Kate Cornick said.
And Optus' director of corporate and government affairs Maha Krishnapillai also backed Quilty's call.
"I think as an industry its a crying shame that most people outside this room look at our sector with humour and laugh at the way we all seem to be debating and arguing and squabbling amongst ourselves rather than talking about what I think is more interesting, which is the benefits to the economy, to society," he said.
The industry itself also needed to change with the times, Quilty said.
He said that the "chickens were coming home to roost on customer service" and called for action to head off the potential for tighter regulations to be introduced.
The communications regulator has already made clear it was disappointed by industry submissions to a customer service inquiry that it was holding.
Quilty also said carriers that didn't adapt would find themselves "increasingly questioned and potentially marginalised".
"Providers who continue to rely on the old way of doing things - selling bits and bytes, calls and basic access - will become little more than struggling utilities, with their lunches mercilessly devoured by smart predators who play a totally different game where the old rules will no longer apply," he said.
"If what you're selling is in abundant supply, everyone has access to it, no one really values it that much any longer, and it's becoming cheaper by the day, then your chances of business success are pretty remote.
"That doesn't mean we should all pull up stumps or commit haru kari - quite the opposite. The challenge is to make sure we're the ones providing the value that customers want."
Quilty also provided brief commentary on the ACCC's draft wholesale price proposal - which would significantly cut access prices - and on Australia's new political landscape.
He said there was a need for wholesale "price stability and certainty" and that major wholesale price movements "will take money out of the industry at just the wrong time and encourage retail prices that may not be sustainable over the long term".
On politics, Quilty believed the Australian parliament would "remain a passionate and combative battleground of competing ideas and personalities" despite minority government rule.
"Call me a battle hardened skeptic, but I'm not sure how different the post-election climate will end up being from the established political norm," Quilty said.