Does TUANZ need to exist?

Industry leaders weigh in on the value of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand

The Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ), which has existed for 26 years, is on the brink of extinction. Its sole employee, CEO Paul Brislen, says it needs $400,000 a year to work effectively on behalf of users in New Zealand.

The organisation will know this month whether that figure has been reached through membership fees. Brislen says it is now “make or break” for the organisation, which has slashed its costs by moving out of its offices (Brislen now works from home) and making several staff redundant earlier this year.

Does TUANZ need to exist to ensure that users of telecommunications are represented? Computerworld posed the question to telco industry leaders.

“I see value in assistance being available to consumers to help understand and navigate the highly technical ICT industry. What form that takes, however, is a matter for discussion by stakeholders.”

- ICT Minister Amy Adams.

“The industry strongly believes that the voices of its customer must be heard and the interests of customers considered at all times. TUANZ has been a tireless and vigorous advocate for its members and consumers in general and it is those customers that will determine who represents them. The TCF has always appreciated the contribution made at Board and working party levels by TUANZ and it’s representatives. TCF hopes that TUANZ will continue to be the voice of the New Zealand telecommunications consumer but will work with whoever the consumers choose as their representative.”

- Telecommunications Carriers Forum CEO David Stone.

“I think TUANZ needs to exist. There are some big issues in the sector from Ultra Fast Broadband to spectrum and I think it’s vital we have an independent voice for telecommunications users.

“TUANZ is a not-for-profit association formed to lobby telcos, government and regulators for a ‘better’ telco environment. They’ve played a big role in the past and successfully pushed for the splitting of Telecom, the introduction of UFB, and lower termination rates for mobile phones.

“I asked on Twitter what people thought and the main messages I heard were that many weren’t aware of TUANZ, but those that were, valued their services. Perhaps an issue to be addressed with falling membership revenue is better promotion of their role.”

- Gareth Hughes, Green Party ICT spokesperson.

“The purposes of TUANZ — to ensure that end users can buy services on a competitive, well functioning market and that New Zealand makes maximum use of telecommunications for economic and social good — remain as valid as ever.

“While many of the high-profile regulatory battles have been won, others such as the spectrum auction still require a strong user voice, as do the opportunities and challenges of fibre and 4G. But while an independent voice remains crucial, it doesn’t have to be a free-standing TUANZ as we know it. The UK equivalent, for example, folded very successfully into the British Computer Society, thus strengthening both groups.”

- Ernie Newman, former TUANZ CEO.

“InternetNZ works for an ‘open and uncapturable’ internet. This has meant we’ve enjoyed working alongside TUANZ in the past - from copyright issues preventing Kiwis paying to watch TV shows soon after their airing overseas to championing the Telecommunications Commissioner’s continuing oversight role to make sure consumers benefit from fibre broadband under the Telco Amendment Bill.

“Consumers need a collective voice. Individually, we aren’t large enough to sway the course of politicians or companies, but together we can be heard and protect our rights. Whether or not TUANZ needs to exist is for TUANZ members to decide.”

- InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar.

“It’s certainly true that no organisation has the ‘right’ to exist. Organisations can, and should, only exist because they meet a perceived need. But even a cursory glance at the telecommunications landscape shows that retaining TUANZ is a no-brainer.

“Some will no doubt see the issues TUANZ are facing as an opportunity for themselves one way or another. However let’s not lose sight of the big picture: this is a real threat to New Zealand. TUANZ has existed for so long because nobody else does what they do, or could do it as effectively. We need that independent voice.

“What would the landscape look like without TUANZ? As reported previously in Computerworld there’s certainly a persistent rumour that the Government is looking to water down the role of the Telecommunications Commissioner. We’ll find out in the fullness of time whether that occurs, however an environment devoid of both the independent commissioner and the independent voice of telecomms users really doesn’t bear thinking about.

“So does TUANZ need to exist? Of course it does. As Aussie Don Chipp once said, someone needs to keep the b****ds honest. As a community, let’s get behind them and give them a chance to sort themselves out – just one more year.”

- Institute of IT Professionals CEO Paul Matthews.

“I think that in telecommunications we’ve actually been fortunate in that there has been a very vocal proponent and advocate of the consumer interest, in TUANZ... although TUANZ’s members are predominantly corporate users, the real battles that are being fought are really now in the consumer area. TUANZ has picked up that role and is an extraordinarily effective advocate for the consumer cause.”

- Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson, who referred Computerworld’s enquiry to a Commerce Select Committee exchange from March 2010.

“TUANZ has had a long and proud history and it must not disappear. Now is the time that its strength should be consolidating. My message to the telecommunications industry, the ICT sector and to the Broadcasting sector is don’t let it wither and die. Work together and devise a plan to have a strong voice. Governments may come and go, but industry needs an environment within which to thrive.

“TUANZ provides and has provided a strong representative voice and it must continue.”

- Clare Curran, Labour ICT spokesperson.

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