The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 3, 2008) - Oh for goodness sake. Both Telikom and Digicel employ legions of technical specialists. These people are fully aware of what makes their respective networks tick and what causes problems when they don’t.

Last Friday we carried a lengthy item that showed the abysmal level of cooperation between the two organizations.

On the one hand Digicel gave a technical explanation for the continuing delay in the connection process between the two networks; it was lucid, accessible to the ordinary reader and if true, made perfect sense.

On this occasion, Telikom’s response was a somewhat petulant accusation that Digicel "was playing its usual delaying tactics," and "trying to avoid the issue of interconnection."

That response avoided dealing with the supposed facts outlined by Digicel that indicated negativity on the part of Telikom. To us, as we suspect holds true for most readers, the more detailed aspects of mobile phone technology remain a closed book. What we do know is that the arrival of Digicel in PNG created a whole new communications scenario for our people.

The advertisements show villagers in distant parts of a number of provinces receiving phone calls from family members in the towns and cities. They’re not just good public relations -- they’re an accurate reflection of a transformation that has taken place in our country.

In common with hundreds of others, we’ve had personal experience of this new reality; the result is that we’ve purchased a mobile telephone and opened a whole corridor of previously locked doors.

And this new scenario is not restricted to PNG calls.

If there is one sector that Telikom has always failed to address, it has been the sky-high rates charged for overseas calls, even in the case of neighboring countries. That has never been good enough, despite the lengthy technical statements occasionally released by Telikom seeking to explain and justify those charges.

These simply left the average members of the public wondering why virtually all other countries had cheap international calls while PNG seemed to be trapped in some medieval communications time warp.

The fact is that we now know we can talk to loved ones overseas without sending the family bankrupt.

We read the lengthy statement from the Minister for Communications last week; from what was said we were unable to determine whether the excellent cheap service provided by Digicel to those wishing to make overseas calls will continue or not. That is the type of question the public wants straightforward answers to, rather than a tour of the Government’s highly fluid communications policy.

Over and over again, the public has been assured that the Somare Government is committed to full-scale competition in the market place.

Digicel’s initial response to that open door policy was to enter PNG and spend a small fortune installing communications equipment in record time throughout a significant part of PNG.

This is something that Telikom, for whatever reason, has long been unable to do.

Few members of the PNG public who have lived through the head-on marketing clash between Telikom and Digicel are likely to forget the competitive excitement -- the nation was electrified. For once we were seeing results and not promises and we were clearly reaping benefits from competition.

We trust the Government will not now attempt to truncate the services available as a result of that competition.

For if Telikom’s monopolistic presence, hidden this time behind a cloak of up-front competition, reverts to being an obstacle to speedy, inexpensive and efficient domestic and international communications, then we think that’s much too high a price to pay. The real benefit of competition is not only the eye-opening advent of Digicel.

It is also the very real stimulus applied to Telikom.

For whether the Government wants to maintain Telikom as the pre-eminent communications network or not, the public has seen and experienced a new vision and are unlikely to accept anything less.

Competition has given us Digicel -- but it has also given Telikom the chance to show that it can perform every bit as well as its [Caribbean] competitor. Provided the playing field is level, continuing competition between the two telcos can only bring benefits to our people and our country.

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