FORUM: ICT minister's workload

When the prime minister announces his cabinet, what challenges will the ICT minister face?

Who will be the next ICT minister? And what difference can he or she make to the industry now that the big telco infrastructure contracts have been decided?

Looking ahead to the next three years, here are six issues that need attention.

Patents – the legislation that would remove software patents is gathering dust and, as was clear at the InternetNZ election debate, there is cross-party support to pass the Patents Bill. Time to get this through the house toute de suite. An ICT minister wouldn’t want to see the government accused of holding back legislation to facilitate the passing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Skills – This column was hammered earlier in the year when it suggested that computer science in secondary schools is a dismal subject. Mea culpa. A lot of great work has been done in this area, but there’s a long way to go to ensure the next generation is equipped for careers in technology.

An ICT minister who actively evangelises on the necessity of ICT skills, and puts some practical measures in place to advance training and internships, would be most welcome.

Trans-Tasman mobile roaming – the joint working party between Australia and New Zealand needs a little prod to get some progress happening in this area. A question to ask is, if Vodafone Group can create a global billing platform that eradicates international roaming fees for multi-national corporates wanting to enable machine-to-machine applications, then why can’t it create a similar service for the devices human beings use when they travel overseas?

Buy Kiwi made – the Ministry of Science and Innovation has a big chequebook for grants to local tech companies, but there is another way to support New Zealand. Government is a major ICT spender (some estimates suggest it accounts for as much as 40 percent of total ICT expenditure).

A practical way to assist New Zealand companies is to enable them to compete for big contracts on an equal footing with the multi-nationals.

If Kiwi companies can prove their solutions work in New Zealand, it will make it easier for them to sell overseas; perhaps the ICT minister could raise this in cabinet now and again.

Content delivery – in the last term, ICT Minister Steven Joyce (who may or may not retain the portfolio) appeared to be in denial about the convergence of telecommunications and broadcasting.

But if the National government wants households to take up fibre services they may have to break the stranglehold that Sky TV has on overseas movie content and local sports broadcasting. Either that or they could face a rise in civil disobedience as New Zealanders ignore the Copyright (Infringing File-Sharing) Act and download the content anyway.

Digital dividend – possibly the final land-grab in telco world, the allocation of the 700MHz spectrum which will determine the roadmap for mobile connectivity for the next 20 years. It has the added complication of a Treaty of Waitangi claim, and spectrum allocation could possibly be part of a coalition agreement currently being hammered out between the National and Maori Party.

So, plenty to do for whoever gets the job and good luck to them.

This column first appeared in the December 5 print edition of Computerworld and has been edited for online publication.

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