The Telecommunications Users Association accused Vodafone of "scare tactics" after chief executive Russell Stanners said 1.6 million poorer Kiwis may have to pay more for mobile calls if mobile termination rates were heavily regulated.
Telecommunications firms and the association traded jibes at the start of a two-day Wellington conference organised by the Commerce Commission to seek feedback on its recommendation to regulate the fees mobile operators charge carriers to route calls and texts to customers.
Mr Stanners said that if operators were forced to charge nothing or low rates, there would be an explosion in "text spamming" unsolicited text advertisements.
Pre-pay customers might see their credit expire every month and mobile users who did not make many outgoing calls might even be forced to pay to receive calls.
"I don't want New Zealand to become the text spamming capital of the world," he said.
Vodafone's warnings concerned charities Parents Inc and Youthline, which said they were worried regulation might have a negative impact. Youthline chief executive Stephen Bell thought regulation might increase text bullying.
Mr Bell admitted Youthline had received support from Vodafone's charitable arm, the Vodafone Foundation, to develop a centre in Papatoetoe.
Vodafone is a sponsor of Parents Inc, with which it announced a three-year partnership in June. Parents Inc chief executive Bruce Pilbrow said Vodafone had educated the charity on the termination issue.
Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman said high termination charges were responsible for artificially pushing up the price of calls to and from cellphones. He urged the commission to stick by its decision.
"End users have paid too much for too long and are relying on you to fix this," he told the commission panel, chaired by Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson in his first public engagement since returning to work in July following treatment for alcoholism.
Mr Newman was backed by Orcon boss Scott Bartlett and Callplus regulatory affairs head Graham Walmsley who spoke in favour of regulation.
2degrees chief executive Eric Hertz goaded Vodafone to make good on its threats, accusing Vodafone and Telecom of "cynically gaming" the regulatory process.
If Vodafone wanted to raise its prices, 2degrees was happy to offer customers a better deal, he said. "I invite them to do so. I would encourage them to do it, and I would appreciate it if they did it as quickly as possible."
CallPlus chief executive Martin Wylie will step down on October 1 this year to focus on other opportunities, but will remain a director, the company said.
CallPlus is New Zealand's fourth largest telco, with annual revenues of more than $100m.
- © Fairfax NZ News