TUANZ makes plea for infrastructure leadership

The system is in need of oversight and constructive control, says TUANZ

In a plea to the incoming government, TUANZ has put the case for a dedicated arm of government to be put in charge of the digital economy.

This would bring together experts from different ministries as well as other public sector organisations, says TUANZ in a green paper titled “Towards a National Digital Architecture”, which was published last week.

Comparing our national telecomms infrastructure, and the equipment and applications connected to it, to an “ecosystem” TUANZ says that the system is in need of “a degree of oversight and constructive control”.

“A combination of laissez faire with a blind faith in market forces is very unlikely to deliver the optimal outcome,” says the report. It also suggests that control is best when undertaken by a body with a single vision.

“The Commerce Commission does this job in part, but is, essentially, focused on competition, while the Ministry of Economic Development, with its multiplicity of industry foci, is under-resourced for the task and too fragmented.”

Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) provides one possible model for such a single agency, says TUANZ. The IDA supports a consortium called OpenNet with up to NZ$770m in funding. OpenNet aims to provide a national open access fibre-optic network, using existing passive infrastructure such as ducts and manholes. The government is vesting these in a neutral company, AssetCo, and will gradually reduce its shareholding in the company.

Whatever structure is adopted in New Zealand, “we must change the status quo,” says TUANZ. “A government-led think tank, properly resourced with the right people and empowered to make bold decisions to accelerate New Zealand’s digital journey, is way overdue. This need not add to costs; it may merely mean gathering up the best people already working in this field into a structure where they can operate more effectively.”

Among the core requirements is an assurance of interoperability between the parts of the network provided by different bodies — private companies, local and central government, and community efforts — as well as monitoring and management. “[This] in order to provide predictable, consistent and appropriate service levels to industry and consumers.”

The TUANZ paper also seeks to remind government and the public that broadband is not just about web access. “Economic transformation will involve more complex applications, which are demanding of data volume, availability and immediacy.”

“[The telecomms lobby] recommends that at the earliest possible date after the General Election the incoming minister convene a meeting of all stakeholders to review the recommendations in this Green Paper, determine a way forward and allocate responsibilities. TUANZ looks forward to being part of that process,” says the paper.

The government’s ICT minister, David Cunliffe, was quick to compliment TUANZ on the paper last week.

The paper “provides valuable input into discussions on New Zealand’s ICT future,” he said, adding that it “endorses and promotes many of the policies the Labour-led government has already introduced through our pro-competitive regulatory reforms and the operational separation of Telecom New Zealand.”

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