The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission today issued three record keeping rules for Telstra as the initial phase of developing an improved competitive environment under the Federal Government's new accounting separation regime.
The rules seek to encourage a more transparent, accountable and informed regulatory market by improving the provision and disclosure of information on Telstra's operations to the ACCC, industry, the public and the Government.
ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said the rules are intended as a start to addressing the anti-competition and discriminatory concerns arising from Telstra's market power and the level of vertical integration between Telstra’s wholesale and retail operations.
The three RKRs deal with the initial reporting requirements for Telstra through the provision of information on:
- current cost accounting (the CCA regime)
- key performance indicators (the KPI measures) on non-price terms and conditions
- imputation analysis of core telecommunications services (imputation testing).
The requirements for the rules are set down in the recently finalised Ministerial Direction on the accounting separation of Telstra.
"Given the tight timeframes involved in the preparation of the initial reports, which are due to be supplied to the ACCC by the end of November 2003, it is necessary to give Telstra sufficient time to develop its data systems to ensure these first reports get to the ACCC on time.
"I should emphasise that these are initial record keeping rules and cover only the first reports under the new accounting separation regime. The ACCC intends that this is a transitional phase only, toward producing a more comprehensive, credible accounting separation regime for subsequent reports from Telstra.
"This of course means that the subsequent reports will be under new rules after the ACCC has had sufficient time to consult industry properly and Telstra has developed the capacity to supply the required information to the ACCC".
The CCA regime requires Telstra to provide detailed accounts of the current costs of providing its services in addition to the provision of historical cost information. This provision of current cost information will create more transparency about Telstra's costs as an ongoing, sustainable business.
Professor Allan Fels said the ACCC had considered Telstra's current systems and procedures when it drafted the rules for the CCA regime.
"Discussions with Telstra revealed that its current reporting systems are not presently suitable for the preparation of full CCA reports for the initial report", he said.
Given the tight timeframes for that first report and Telstra's data problems, it has been decided that the initial report will be based on a more limited set of current cost adjustments as compared to subsequent reports.
The form and content of subsequent reports will be subject of a discussion paper from the ACCC (to be issued shortly) seeking industry comment on the key issues on CCA going forward.
The KPI measures in the rule require Telstra to prepare reports comparing the key non-price terms and conditions of supplying core telecommunications services to itself and other access seekers. This will help to ensure Telstra is competing fairly and treating its wholesale and retail customers with an equivalent standard of service. The rule addresses services such as the ordering and provisioning and management of faults.
The ACCC issued a discussion paper in April 2003 seeking the views of interested parties on this issue and the submissions received informed the drafting of the RKR.
"While the KPIs for the initial report will achieve many of the stated objectives, certain limitations in Telstra's systems means that the KPIs will require further modification and enhancement over time to ensure that these KPI measures develop into an effective regulatory regime", Professor Fels said.
"To that end, the ACCC intends to adopt a phased approach to the development of KPIs and will continue to discuss with Telstra and industry a number of possible options to improve the KPIs in order to effectively meet the objectives of accounting separation".
Imputation testing assists in detecting anti-competitive price squeezes in a retail market. A price squeeze could occur where Telstra reduces the margin between retail and wholesale prices to a level that inhibits competition.
The Ministerial Direction requires imputation testing to be undertaken and a report be supplied by Telstra to the ACCC on retail services using Telstra's core wholesale services, with the test, the results and analysis to be published by the ACCC each quarter.
"The imputation testing will assist the ACCC and industry in identifying whether Telstra’s pricing is harming competition.
"The ACCC has already consulted widely with industry players on this issue in its recent paper on bundling and will offer another opportunity for interested parties to comment when it issues a discussion paper on this rule shortly. This input will be crucial in developing an effective imputation test for future reports from Telstra.
"Telstra, industry and the public should be under no illusions about the ACCC's intentions. The approach to the initial report is a pragmatic one that should in no way be construed as an endorsement by the ACCC that the initial report framework will be used as a basis for the preparation of future CCA reports. Indeed, the ACCC believes that the initial reports framework is largely unsuitable as a longer term approach to the development of an effective accounting separation regime for Telstra".
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