Microsoft NZ exec calls for a national vision for UFB

Australian NBN better model for broadband rollout says national technology officer

Microsoft New Zealand national technology officer Mark Rees says the government has no vision as to how the Ultra Fast Broadband network will be used, and a strategy needs to be developed in order to maximise the benefits for the country.

“Someone in New Zealand needs to develop a strategy to ensure the benefits of this investment are realised,” he told Computerworld. “A network itself doesn’t provide much benefit to a country, it is only the services and content that are built on top of it.”

Rees first criticised the lack of a strategy in an article co-written with Microsoft Australia and New Zealand standards regional officer Oliver Bell, on the official Microsoft site GovTech. In the article they wrote: “There is a paucity of constructive dialogue about the ways the network can be used, and how New Zealand, as a country, maximises its return on this national investment.”

Rees and Bell contrast this country's lack of strategy with the Australian Government’s approach to rolling out its new fibre broadband network. “The creation of NBNCo [in Australia] lays out a very clear set of foundational goals,” they write. “The University of Melbourne, in conjunction with industry, has invested in a research institute dedicated to products, services and innovations that maximise the benefits of new broadband technologies for Australia.”

In New Zealand, however, Rees says it appears to have been left up to the industry. “Our understanding is that it is more an expectation that the industry will step forward and develop that strategy.”

“If there is no investment in a strategy or a vision then it probably will evolve, but it will take longer. I think in a country like New Zealand we can’t afford that delay.”

He says that Microsoft would see its best avenue to helping develop a vision via organisations such as NZICT and Business NZ. But he favours the Australian’s approach, which involves government, academia and industry.

Rees also says he is in favour of Xero and Pacific Fibre founder Rod Drury’s idea that a New Zealand CTO be appointed to articulate a vision — with a role similar to that of Dr Peter Gluckman, the chief science adviser to the prime minister.

“We need a clear plan for the things that we’re going to do, essentially there is some research that needs to be put in place,” Rees believes. “The idea of having a New Zealand CTO is a good one, because it establishes some clear ownership for that work.”

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