Cunliffe gives 'State of the ICT Sector' address

Promises new R&D funding this month

New Zealand is making strides in using and exporting ICT, but there's a lot of room for improvement.

That's the gist of a speech Communications and IT Minister David Cunliffe gave at the IDC Directions conference last week in Auckland.

Cunliffe noted that when he was first elected as an MP in 1999, there was a lot of emphasis on development within the IT sector, but now the focus has shifted towards getting the wider community using IT.

He points to the irony that while New Zealand has one of the highest PC and internet usage rates in the OECD, our uptake of broadband is one of the lowest.

Another OECD figure he mentioned was New Zealand's ranking of 29th out of 30 in terms of private sector research and development — a statistic he wants to see improve.

"There will be some new R&D funds announced in the Digital Strategy to be released on May 16," Cunliffe promised.

He acknowledged that perhaps the biggest area in which IT use can be improved is in government.

"I've had feedback that 'it's too difficult to get ICT into small businesses," he says.

He cited the example of small businesses such as dairies or panelbeaters which could access Government services more easily and cheaply if they did it online.

"There's huge potential in e-health, e-education, e-science and other areas."

He also said "I'm committed to improving the Government procurement process and make it easier for smaller suppliers to take part."

Responding to a question from the audience about the Commerce Commission recommendation to restrict the upload speed of broadband services 128kbit/s, Cunliffe suggested there would be more government involvement later in the year.

"You'll see more of the video ref around mid-year." Cunliffe is currently reviewing the Telecommunications Act with a view to improving the speed of the decision making process.

Telecom aims to deliver 250,000 broadband residential customers by the end of 2005 and while the company is well on track to meet that target, if its secondary goal of having one third of those delivered by competitors under a wholesale arrangement isn't met, the Government is expected to weigh up its options.

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