End of an era: Ernie Newman looks back

Tuanz's departing CEO gives an exit interview to Sarah Putt

“Having been on a plane most of today, I got off to see the Google Mail previews show me the subject lines of emails, including one from Clare Curran saying Labour pays tribute to Ernie Newman. I thought to myself – hell either Ernie is dead, or he has resigned.”

That’s how blogger, National party stalwart and former InternetNZ vice president David Farrar greeted the news that Ernie Newman was leaving TUANZ after almost 12 years in the role.

Newman had emailed his colleagues that morning to let them know about his resignation and within minutes the news had hit the news wires. He had been with the organisation so long that his resignation was, to some industry commentators, a kind of death. So why did he decide to leave?

“The correct question is why have I stayed so long?” he says. “Because there was unfinished business and because I’ve met some extremely nice people.”

He says there is a “natural point” when it’s the right time to leave an organisation, and for Newman that point has now arrived.

He says national fibre broadband networks will be built – through the Ultra Fast Broadband plan and the Rural Broadband Initiative — and he is impressed by Crown Fibre Holdings and its decision to make the first three successful bidders regional line companies.

“It is an intriguing response by CFH, they have gone up in my estimation for it, because what they’re doing is putting a definite shot across the bows at Telecom without ruling any options out. I think it is a very effective way of giving Telecom a serious electric shock and causing them to regroup and come back with some other approach,” he says.

“Who’s going to get Auckland? You’d have to be very bold to make a guess on it. I would doubt that anyone has a clear view on that yet – even Crown Fibre. I think what they are doing is [getting] everyone on edge a bit to sharpen their pencils and if they play that game strategically, as well as they seem to be at the moment, then I think the end user and the government are going to end up with a good deal.”

Public investment in a fibre broadband network was a major TUANZ campaign overseen by Newman, as was the push to regulate mobile termination rates. The latter was finally agreed to by ICT Minister Steven Joyce after seven years of agitating.

“MTR is really the last of the legacy issue ... there are new, very challenging issues coming into play, for example content regulation,” he says. “Content will be the next competition battleground because content and connectivity are inextricably related. As we move to a scenario where people will get their video content over the phone line rather than conventional television, the monopolisation of content is going to have an impact on the connectivity market.”

Newman says telecommunication regulators around the world are now addressing the content issue. However, he says when the National government was elected one of their first moves was to discontinue a study into the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications regulation.

“I think with hindsight that might have been a pity because most jurisdictions are going down this track at the moment,” he says. “If you want a case study as to how this might happen, you’ve only got to look back 12 months at the television rights for the Rugby World Cup and the controversy that occurred around that.”

But as tempting as it might be to wade into the argument over the regulation of premium content when it’s delivered “over the phone line”, Newman says he’s happy to leave this issue to the new CEO of TUANZ. With battles such as the copper loop unbundling and MTRs now won, it is time for someone else to take up the fight.

“TUANZ operated very successfully for over a decade before I came along and it will operate successfully for over a decade after I leave,” he says. “My understanding is that it is very much business as usual. This is an incredibly interesting role and I think they will get some very high quality candidates for it.”

As for Newman, his new role is as an independent consultant, albeit one without any contracts to date. “I haven’t got any customers. I’m talking to a number of people in a very diverse range of projects, but I’m keen to do a succession of fixed-term contracts rather than a couple of ongoing clients. I have a short concentration span and I love variety and I have a significant number of people who have come to me or I’ve gone to them with specific things I might do, but none of them are signed as yet.”

At the end of the interview, Computerworld asked Newman to look back on his 12 or so years at TUANZ and list the three things he is most proud of. Here is what he cited:

• Contributing to changing the way in which politicians, policy makers and ordinary people see the role of regulation in the network industry.

• Playing a role in the international user space, and helping to make sure that user groups, which in every country you go to are hopelessly under-resourced, but they have a real presence in the major policy organisations around the world.

• Running some great events – the TUANZ Innovation Awards the other night was a nice note to finish on.

See ya round Ernie.

• Ernie Newman’s final day as Tuanz CEO is September 30

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