COOK ISLANDS PUSH TO END TELECOM MONOPOLY

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New Zealand provider to face competition

By Helen Greig RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 26, 2010) – In the Cook Islands, Prime minister Jim Marurai has issued a statement saying he hopes to maintain momentum on the proposed reform to the telecommunications sector this year.

Last November the telecommunications minister announced government’s intention to open the market to competition but said it could take until February to formalize the changes under law.

The reform not only means changing the telecommunications act in parliament but also depends on government extracting itself from an agreement over current monopoly holder Telecom Cook Islands (TCI) which has until now restricted the introduction of competition in the market. Government owns 40 percent of TCI and must negotiate with majority shareholder Telecom New Zealand to end the monopoly agreement signed in 1993.

Marurai told parliament last November that legal advisers were looking at the best way to end the monopoly agreement without huge cost to government.

"We have made it clear that we want to deregulate the telecom, our assets, and our responsibility. Now this agreement is limiting our endeavours to do it as soon as possible. So hopefully, we estimate about February next year it will all be over," said Marurai at the time.

According to his office, Marurai reminded Telecom New Zealand (NZ) last week that he still wants to go ahead with the sector reform as soon as possible.

"Although the prime minister has announced he does not intend to call parliament in the near future, he remains keen to pursue talks with the Telecom Cook Islands’ NZ partners.

The prime minister has been advised that a directors meeting is being arranged for next month and he expects to continue the dialogue process with the NZ board members, in due course."

Marurai says the government position is focused on how best to achieve an open competitive market in telecommunications with independent oversight. The PM has been gathering advice and has reportedly got a committee reviewing the proposed reform.

The promise of reform of the telecommunications industry has been welcomed, especially by the chamber of commerce and local company Mervin Communications which is still pressing for a licence to operate. The company hopes to launch a high quality, low cost mobile network called KukiCel as the first of its proposed services.

The chamber has said competition will promote new technology, improved pricing, and a greater focus on quality of service, reliability and customer support.

Businesses in particular have voiced concern for years over the rising cost of TCI services and its added burden on the increasing costs of doing business here.

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