Charities come to Vodafone's aid

17:00, Sep 03 2009

People might be forgiven for taking a joint media statement issued by Parents Inc and Youthline on Wednesday at face value.

The charities said they were concerned the Commerce Commission's proposal to regulate mobile termination charges might have a ''negative impact''.

Their key worry was that New Zealanders might have to pay to receive mobile calls and texts, which could "prevent many families from keeping in touch, and consequently, from keeping children safe''.

Their fears are understandable, if perhaps a bit misguided. Vodafone has been threatening regulation could have that result, especially in the now highly-unlikely scenario that termination charges were set at zero and the industry moved to a "bill and keep'' regime as newcomer 2degrees has suggested.

But a claim by Youthline's chief executive Stephen Bell that appeared to link the regulation of mobile termination rates with an increased risk of text bullying was perplexing.

Mr Bell notes the prevalence of cheap Sim cards could aid anonymous texting, but flounders when pressed on the relationship between mobile termination regulation and text bullying.

Are the charities worried about higher mobile prices, or lower prices? "Both'', says Parents Inc chief executive Bruce Pilbrow. "Either way it's bad. We don't want to see our kids spammed. We also don't to see families have to pay more to stay in contact."

Is it possible Parents Inc and Youthline's perspective may have been influenced by the fact both charities have received a lot of financial support from Vodafone?

Vodafone's charitable arm, the Vodafone Foundation, awarded Youthline $200,000 to build a centre in Papatoetoe in March and has also paid the salary of a Youthline counsellor. Parents Inc announced a three year partnership with Vodafone in June.

Mr Pilbrow insists its concerns about regulation are valid. Vodafone had "educated'' the charity on the issue.

"They asked us, if we felt compelled to be involved, then they would appreciate our part of the argument.

"They said we raised valid concerns and they needed to be heard and it is a lot easier for us to say those things than Vodafone, because if Vodafone say things like that, [people] would say it was just Vodafone saying that.'' Indeed they might.

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