Summit: Let's get positive about broadband, says panel

Telcos call for a positive attitude and collaboration

Telecom chief executive Paul Reynolds received spontaneous applause at the Digital Future Summit in Auckland last week when he suggested during a panel discussion that the industry needs to work better together and share infrastructures, for example fibre networks.

“I think we need to get our act together to deal with the scale issue by working better together,” he said.

This was echoed by Vodafone’s Tom Chignell. “Let’s get positive,” said Chignell. He said there is still a “glass half empty-mentality” in New Zealand, and achievements to date have not been recognised.

In order to deliver the digital future that the industry has the responsibility to provide, industry stakeholders and the government need to find a way of working together, said Chignell.

“We need to align our objectives and resources, we need to collaborate. But, of course, we in the industry need to compete vigorously to the benefit of our customers.”

Reynolds said he is committed to reshaping Telecom and the way the company is perceived. The company’s number one priority is going to be customer service, he said. Telecom is doing its utmost to reshape itself for the new era by being honest, open and transparent, said Reynolds.

National party IT spokesperson Maurice Williamson, who was also on the panel together with Reynolds, Chignell, TelstraClear’s Alan Freeth and Xero’s Rod Drury, stressed the importance of getting high speed broadband to as many people as possible in a reasonable timeframe. He said New Zealand should look to other countries — good broadband models — and see if what they are doing is appropriate here.

He said it is a big myth that New Zealand is a sparsely populated country. Looking at numbers from the OECD, this country is in keeping with population density numbers for example Australia and the UK, Williamson said.

Today, there is no doubt that high speed broadband brings “phenomenal” gains to the economy, said Williamson, and he shared some ideas on how broadband could reach a greater number of people.

He proposed that all government entities make their land available for the laying of fibre — for example, laying empty pipes down the side of the road when building new roads so that any company can lay fibre there, he said. Another means to increase uptake could be to mandate that every new sub-division has to have not only water, sewerage and electricity rolled up to each house — as required today — but also a fibre connection, he said.

However, broadband itself does not create growing, globally competitive firms or innovative, productive workplaces, said Freeth. What is needed is a holistic approach that celebrates business, nurtures entrepreneurs, fosters start-ups, drives creation and helps create a venture capitalist environment, where great ideas can be launched into the global market, he said. Connection is a means to an end, said Freeth.

Rod Drury, chief executive of Xero, said New Zealand’s competitive advantage is primarily in multi-skilled teams and great relationships. Drury’s dream scenario involves an open access network, and no more discussions about the cost of bandwidth.

Drury suggested the government do a debt-type investment in infrastructure, in order to get broadband out to as many people as possible. An investment of $2-$3 billion seems like a small amount of money, considering the possible return on investment, he said.

The New Zealand Institute’s David Skilling, who chaired the panel discussion, said New Zealand needs to be a world leader in the digital arena. New Zealand has a tendency to focus on short term goals, at the expense of securing long term gains, said Skilling.

“We need to focus on solving tomorrow’s problems,” he said.

Most of the attendees Computerworld spoke to yesterday thought the discussions at the summit were positive, but some had hoped for more action and hands-on suggestions on how to solve the broadband problem. Some, however, expressed the view that the broadband discussion is old news, and that the discussion should move on to how to best use broadband to grow the economy.

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Tags VodafonetelecomPaul ReynoldsNetworking & Telecomms IDtom chignelldigital future summit

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