Govt to nudge SOEs toward public interest

The government is exploring ways of bringing state-owned enterprises back towards the public-service fold - to more effectively serve its Probe project to spread broadband access in NZ.

The government is exploring ways of bringing semi-independent state-owned enterprises back towards the public-service fold to serve more effectively its Probe project to spread broadband access in New Zealand.

In the box seat is BCL, the TVNZ communications subsidiary which, IT minister Paul Swain confirms, is heavily involved in responses to the request for information (RFI) tender to potential Probe suppliers.

Swain also mentioned Transpower in this context, in an address to a seminar earlier this month on “The Unwired World”, organised by Wellington IT resources organisation, (e)-vision.

“As associate minister of finance, I’ve had to consider what the relationship should be between these things we own [SOEs] and our [ICT] strategy,” he said.

The SOEs were originally established as a mid-stage towards full privatisation, but the Labour Government has put the brakes on that process, leaving the organisations in something of a limbo.

“We’ve said we’re not privatising, but we can’t have a ‘steady as we drift’ policy either.”

Moves are already being discussed towards a closer association between SOEs and government on public-interest projects like Probe, Swain says, but limits have clearly been imposed from higher up on how much he can reveal.

“On pain of death I am not going into great detail at this stage,” he says. “All I can say is there’s work going on.”

Wireless technology will play a big role in the broadband project, says Swain, with private company Walker Wireless in the hunt too. Satellite providers have also expressed an interest.

There have been 29 responses to the Probe RFI. A request for proposals is expected in late October or early November, says Swain, with tender requests to follow towards the end of the year. The successful tenders may be “one for the whole country, several or as many as 14”, he says.

The report of the government’s ICT taskforce, formed in the wake of the its “innovation” policy earlier this year, is due for release “very shortly”, he says. One member of the taskforce, Jim Donovan, CEO of cellular antenna manufacturer Deltec Telesystems, was deliberately chosen for his wireless background.

Another major report which Swain has collected under his new responsibilities as transport minister is New Zealand’s grand Transport Strategy, also due for release soon. This, he says, will include a discussion of teleworking, where digital connectivity and bandwidth issues relate to pressure on the roads. Teleworking’s eternal hope is that online access may reduce the working population’s commitment to travel congested motorways twice a day, five times a week.

Swain, however, admits that social networking in the workplace performs an important role and that moves towards widespread teleworking will be gradual.

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